Dhiren Sharma gives his predictions for Group B
- Fifa World Ranking – 41
- Star Man – Hakim Ziyech (Ajax)
- Group B Prediction – 4th
Morocco came into the tournament with a lot of promise, topping their qualifying group whilst going unbeaten, with the likes of Ivory Coast and Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang’s Gabon providing the competition. But Morocco prevailed, and found themselves heading for their first World Cup in twenty years. Drawn in an arduous group, their opener against Iran was always going to be crucial if they wanted to go past the group stages. But defeat to Iran all but secures their fate, with stars Medhi Benatia and the creative Hakim Ziyech needing to pull a rabbit out of the hat if they are to progress. Real Madrid starlet Achraf Hakimi will also have a huge part to play, having proven himself a worthy deputy to Dani Carvajal for Los Blancos.
- Fifa World Ranking – 37
- Star Man – Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan)
- Group B Prediction – 3rd
Iran come into their fifth ever world cup aiming to get out of their incredibly difficult group. Their nightmare draw meant that they are ina group with both Portugal (the European Champions) and Spain (World Cup favourites). Yet Iran have what it takes to give the Iberian duo a run for their money. Defensively solid, they conceded just two goals in their 10 games of world cup qualifiers. A superb second half display in their opener against Morroco just about earned them a hard-fought victory, which following the Spain-Portugal draw leaves them unexpectedly leading their group. Their tactically intelligent coach Carlos Queiroz will hope to gain a point in their next two games against the big boys, and Iran are highly likely to rely on their resolute defence to see them through. If they are able to grind out draws against Spain and Portugal, they have a good chance of performing a miracle and escaping their group. However, whilst they put in fantastic defensive displays in their qualifiers, and against Morocco, I think the magic of Cristiano Ronaldo and the might of the Spanish midfield will prove to be too much for their defence to handle. They will eventually have to settle for third place.
- Fifa World Ranking – 4
- Star Man – Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
- Group B Prediction – 2nd
Following their Euro Championship triumph, Portugal have high hopes coming into this World Cup. Ranked 4th in the world by FIFA, their unlikely Euro win provides a solid base for Ronaldo and co to use as a springboard for higher successes. Their highest finish came in 1966 when they reached the semi final, but they will be aiming to go two steps further this time. Their team has quality, with Rui Patricio in fine form coming into the tournament, behind an experienced back line, youthful midfield and an attack spearheaded by the second best player on the planet (very debatable). Pepe and Jose Fonte will hope to play at the top level despite earning big money moves to Turkey and China respectively. Premier league winner Bernardo Silva and William Carvalho bring a youthful aspect to Portugal’s midfield, whilst Joao Moutinho brings vast experience. Premier league new boys Joao Mario and Adrien Silva add squad depth to what looks like a very classy midfield. The attack, of course, is dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo, who hopes to add the greatest trophy of all to his ever increasing collection, supported by veteran Ricardo Quaresma and Milan’s Andre Silva, who was given the nod in place of the experienced Nani.
After a thrilling 3-3 draw with Spain in their opener, Portugal will look to pick up 6 points against Morocco and Iran. Spain, however, will be looking to do the same thing and I predict both teams will end up on 7 points each come the end of the group stages, with Spain just pipping them to first place on goal difference.
- Fifa World Ranking – 10
- Star Man – Isco (Real Madrid)
- Group B Prediction – 1st
A football team who dominated the world and untouchable just 6 years ago, but were knocked out in the group stage in Brazil four years ago, Spain will no doubt try and replicate their spellbinding form of between 2008-2012. Whilst stars such as David Villa, Fernando Torres, Iker Casillas and Xavi have moved on, new stars including Diego Costa, Isco, David De Gea and Koke have emerged — giving hope to the Spanish. However, a last minute managerial change has thrown a spanner into the works, with Fernando Hierro taking over the reigns from Julen Lopetegui, with the latter’s announcement of his intent to join Real Madrid proving costly. Spain were extremely unlucky in their opening game — conceding goals from a penalty, a goalkeeping error, and an amazing free kick. David De Gea, considered by many the best keeper on Earth, was supposed to be a perfect replacement for Casillas, a Spanish legend, and he may go on to have a good World Cup – it will depend on how much his mistake affects his confidence. The ever solid centre back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique may be playing their last World Cup, but will no doubt provide invaluable support to the team with their shared experience on and off the pitch. The new look midfield is still dominated by three stalwarts of the Spanish national side – David Silva and Andres Iniesta, with Sergio Busquets holding. Koke and Isco provide sparks of magic further forward, and supply passes through to Diego Costa, heir to David Villa’s throne.
As I have written, I’m predicting to Spain to win the group on goal difference, and then march through to the next round and beyond.