World Cup 2018, Portugal vs Spain: Match Preview
The Iberian rivals are all set to lock horns in the most awaited match of the WC 2018 on Friday. The second Group B encounter of the World Cup will see European champions Portugal taking on their neighboring nemesis Spain which will be the 9th competitive meeting between the two sides. The last time the two sides met was in the UEFA Euro 2012 semi-final which was won by eventual champions Spain on penalties.
Things have changed since their last meeting as Portugal have become a much stronger side ever since their European triumph 2 years ago. The Spanish side went through a lot of changes as well since 2012 as they witnessed the downfall of their golden era at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and after a disappointing UEFA Euro 2016 campaign they once again picked themselves up and are currently on a 20-match unbeaten streak which began way back in September 2016.
Head to Head statistics
Portugal and Spain have had a total of 36 meetings of which 18 resulted in Spanish victory, 6 in Portuguese wins and the remaining 12 being played as draws. In the course of these matches, Portugal scored a total of 41 goals whereas La Roja found the net 72 times with an average of over 2 goals per game.
The biggest margin of victory between the two sides came at the 1934 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign when the Spanish side demolished the Portuguese by a scoreline of 9-0.
Sacking of Julen Lopetegui
On Wednesday, just a day before the World Cup was scheduled to start Spain sacked their head coach Julen Lopetegui after it was announced on Tuesday that he'll be taking over the head coach position at Real Madrid after the World Cup.
Only three weeks ago Lopetegui renewed his contract with the Spanish national side until 2020. His appointment by Los Blancos was not well received by the president of Spanish football federation Luis Rubiales and the bold decision of sacking the manager was taken with their opening World Cup match less than 48 hours away.
The Spanish team under Lopetegui never lost a match, in his 20 matches with the national team he managed to win 14 games and drew 6. Spain under Lopetegui looked like an unstoppable force as he brought back the traditional passing game.
After relieving Lopetegui of his national duties, the Spanish football federation appointed Fernando Hierro as the new head coach and he immediately joined his players in Krasnodar where Spain have their training base.
The sudden change in management might play in Portugal's favor as the Spanish team that was playing so well under Lopetegui may have to adopt some last minute tactical changes with the new gaffer in-charge.
The entire Spanish squad is expected to be available for the opening game with only Dani Carvajal's fitness in doubt as he suffered a right hamstring injury in Real Madrid's Champions League final against Liverpool about 18 days ago and will most probably be replaced by right-back Alvaro Odriozola.
Spain would probably go with the traditional 4-3-3 formation that has served them well in the past and most recently in the 6-1 destruction of Argentina in March this year.
The Portuguese will be coming into the game after solid a 3-0 win over Algeria in the final friendly game before the World Cup. The game saw Goncalo Guedes and Bruno Fernandes performing well with Guedes bagging a brace.
However, in the opening World Cup match against Spain, 63-year-old Portugal boss Fernando Santos will look to start Milan striker Andre Silva alongside Cristiano Ronaldo keeping Guedes on the bench and will compose a similar defensive lineup used in the game against Algeria.
Spain possible starting eleven: De Gea; Odriozola, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Koke, Busquets, Iniesta; Isco, Costa, Silva
Portugal possible starting eleven: Patricio; Cedric, Pepe, B.Alves, Guerreiro; B.Silva, Joao Mario, Carvalho, B.Fernandes; A.Silva, Ronaldo
Final scoreline prediction: POR 1-2 ESP
Portugal will not be an easy opponent for the in-form Spanish team but La Roja will manage to start their World Cup campaign with a win as the team consists of experienced players who know how to decide the outcome of a game under different situations.
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