World Cup 2018: Portugal vs Spain, Everything you need to know about Match 4
The most important game of Group B will see Portugal take on Spain as the late kick-off on the second day of the World Cup, at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi. The game will be vital as it is most likely to influence the final standings of these two teams, and therefore see an easier team in the RO16.
With the recent sacking of Lopetegui, morale might not be as high in the Spanish camp as it should be. Whether that is likely to have an impact on the final result remains to be seen, but there is a good chance that it might.
Here's everything you need to know about Match 4 of the 2018 World Cup, which kicks off at 23:30 hours IST:
FIFA ranking: 4
Coach: Fernando Santos
Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo
Portugal are no longer the underdogs they once were, and the current European Champions have enough quality to fight with any of the other teams' considered favourites in Russia. Unfortunately for them, they are still considered a tier 2 side because of their ageing squad.
Rui Patricio has been Portugal's keeper for a long time now, and his performance in the Euros was enough to show that he belonged in the same discussion as other elite level keepers.
The back line is where things get shaky. Pepe and Alves, 2 of the team's starters are 35 and 36 respectively and are not getting any younger or faster. Pepe might still be a solid defender, but when the Spanish come calling, it will be his door they knock on first.
Soares and Guerreiro are the full backs, and they are a bit younger and faster. Guerreiro, in particular, has been showing a lot of promise when allowed to play for Dortmund and will provide depth in attack as well.
Joao Moutinho is the guy whom Ronaldo inspired to take that penalty against Poland in the Euros, and will be partnered by Carvalho as DM. They will have to cover their CBs as well, so they two are likely to be under tremendous pressure all game.
The wings will see something interesting - Pep Guardiola's darling at Manchester City, Bernardo Silva starting on the left and Jose Mourinho's admiration earned Joao Mario, on the right. Fighting with them will be quality players like Bruno Fernandes and Leicester's Adrien Silva.
The strike force up front revolves around Cristiano Ronaldo, with Milan's Andre Silva giving him company. Quaresma and Guedes might also drop in to help out, but the 22-year-old shares great chemistry with the Madrid superstar, and what more do you need?
FIFA ranking: 8
Coach: Fernando Hierro
Captain: Sergio Ramos
If there is one thing you should not do, it is to sack your coach - the coach you just gave a new contract to - one day before the World Cup. Unfortunately, no one gave that memo to the Spanish Federation and things look ugly.
But there is no time to cry over spilt milk, and certainly not when you are taking on Portugal in the first match. The WC is all about momentum, and the first game could make or break a team's chances. It is to this effect that the Spanish need to get their head back in the game.
David de Gea is arguably the best keeper in the world playing at the moment (considering Neuer has not played for a long time now) and Spain will have nothing to worry with him in goal. Not to mention that he has two of the best CBs in world football - Pique and Ramos - monitoring the air space in front of him.
Barcelona's Jordi Alba is the left back (more of a wing back, really) while Madrid's Carvajal performs the same role from the right. Seriously, there is nothing to worry about the defense. And the midfield. And the attack.
Busquets and Thiago are the central midfielders - Busquets the more defensive option while Thiago annoys the opponent defence by being everywhere. Iniesta and Silva, both of whom have only gotten better with age serve on the wings with Isco as the No.10.
Isco, like every other Spanish player, will be in a freely moving role and is the primary focus of their attack. The lone striker is Diego Costa, who has had a great season with Atletico, but his exploits in the Spanish shirt haven't been great.
His ability to play for a team like Spain and their rapid passes is yet to be gauged, but this might be the time for him to come good for them. Considering that he is the best striker by a mile, Spain will be hoping that he does.
Bookies odds (crownbet):
Prediction: Under any other circumstances, Spain is a no-brainer pick. But just this once, considering everything that is happening behind the curtains, Spain looks vulnerable. But their team is still quality and might pull through. A 2-2 draw should be fair enough.