After a surprising goal-laden opener, Portugal take on Spain in arguably the most anticipated match of the group stages
Russia started the World Cup with a bang, putting 5 past a hapless Saudi Arabia team. Dennis Cheryshev incredible volley and Aleksandr Golovin’s brilliant all-round play (1 goal, 2 assists) were the talking points on the first day of the World Cup.
Three matches take place on Day 2 with the remaining two teams in Group A, Uruguay and Egypt going up against each other in a mouth-watering clash. However, the European Champions taking on the 2010 World Cup winners is unarguably the match of the day.
The Qualification Rounds
Despite coming into the tournament as European Champions, very few expect Portugal to win their group let alone the World Cup. Their current team is very different from the one that won Euros two years prior. They were heavily dependent on talisman Cristiano Ronaldo to guide them through a tricky qualification group. Seleccao topped group B, on goal difference, ahead of Switzerland, scoring 32. However, 15 of those 32 came from the boots of irrepressible Ronaldo. A lot of young stars that shone in 2016 have flopped over the past two years but this team remains full of talent all over the pitch.
The last two days have produced plenty of off-field drama. Julian Lopetegui has been replaced as head coach by former defender Fernando Hierro. This abrupt change of leadership days before their first game has thrown the dressing room in a bit of a disarray. However, Spain’s imperious form coming into the tournament cannot be overstated. La Furia Roja topped Group G of UEFA qualification, holding off Italy. They were also among the only 4 nations to qualify undefeated. Spain’s midfield has regained the bite and crisp that they seemed to have lost after Euro 2012.
Venue: Fisht Olympic Stadium; Sochi; 41,220 capacity
Time: 11:30 pm IST (7 pm UK time)
This match will, in all probability will determine who tops Group B. The ‘Iberian Derby’ would have been a feisty affair at any other stage in the competition but a group stage meeting will take a little bit of sting out of it.
Spain, with their managerial situation, will be looking to get organised as soon as possible. Their midfield, of course, will be the one which controls the tempo of the game. Isco will be the man to look out having shown throughout the qualification. A settled defence, led by Sergio Ramos, ahead of David De Gea will mean that Spain do not possess a soft underbelly which they have been accused of in the past. Diego Costa is expected to lead the line. His link-up play will be more important than anything else, however.
Portugal will be more than happy to concede possession to a technically superior Spanish team. This does not imply that Portugal will simply look to sit back. Their ageing defence heavily relies on Pepe meaning attack will be the best form of defence for Fernando Santos’s men. The manager switches between a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 depending on the opposition. Cristiano Ronaldo will be undoubtedly the most important player on the pitch for the Portuguese. However, midfield schemer Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes will have to make whatever possession Portugal get during the course of 90 minutes.
Who said what?
Recently appointed Spanish manager Fernando Hierro called upon his team to put the controversy behind them. He said:
“The players are excited, they want this challenge. It’s a challenge for everyone. We have no time to dwell.”
“I know they’re going to give 100 per cent. In a World Cup, nobody gives anything away. We all know what this means and our responsibilities.”Portugal manager Fernando Santos was full of praise for his opponents and did not believe that off-field will affect the imperious Spanish game. He said:
“It is Spain and Portugal. Spain has played like that for 10 years, I don’t think there are going to be any surprises. What is important is the team that plays, and the strategy and no more than that.”
“Spain are fantastic opponents. They are highly qualified with a kind of game that has been consolidated over the years and (it) won’t change that radically.”
Two days ago, Spain would have been considered clear favourites. Events since then have swung the balance a little in Portugal’s however. The match will be decided on how well the Spanish team can cope with the issues and Portugal’s ability to make it count whenever the opportunity arises.
Score Prediction: 2-2
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