In a heavyweight clash that could prove crucial for their hopes later in the tournament, European champions Portugal face Iberian neighbours and 2010 World Cup winners Spain in their opening Group B fixture at the 2018 World Cup.
Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russian Federation
Key Stat: Spain have not lost since they were knocked out of Euro 2016 by Italy, with their recent friendly win against Tunisia stretching their unbeaten record to 20 matches.
Expert Verdict: Spain and Portugal both have high hopes of going far at the World Cup, but their chances could be affected by this opening game - which could ultimately decide who tops Group B. European champions Portugal ended their search for a major tournament win at Euro 2016, but they still go into this match as underdogs thanks to Spain's 20-game unbeaten run since that tournament. The effect of Julen Lopetegui's sacking on the eve of the tournament remains to be seen, however.
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Iberian neighbours Portugal, the European champions, and 2010 World Cup winners Spain start their 2018 World Cup campaigns by facing each other at Sochi’s Fisht Olympic Stadium. The two countries have met each other at major tournaments before, including the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, while this will be their 37th match in all competitions. It will be Spain’s first game under Fernando Hierro, after sacking Real Madrid-bound manager Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament. Taking place on Friday June 15, the match kicks off at 9pm local time.
Goncalo Guedes' two goals against Algeria in Portugal’s final pre-tournament friendly appear are likely to cement his starting position ahead of Andre Silva up front. If the team which started against Algeria is to be the team which starts against Spain, veteran defender Bruno Alves looks to have been given the nod ahead of Jose Fonte in central defence, while Joao Moutinho started ahead of Joao Mario in midfield.
Cristiano Ronaldo made his 150th Portugal appearance against Algeria and grabbed an assist in the process. The World Footballer of the Year has scored 81 international goals in that time and heads to the World Cup on the back of scoring 44 goals in 44 games for Real Madrid last season - taking him to 450 in total for the La Liga giants. Goncalo Guedes scored twice in that game, with Bernardo Silva - an influential part of Manchester City’s record-breaking season – getting the assist for the first.
Portugal’s 3-0 defeat of Algeria ensured they got back to winning ways on the eve of the World Cup, having previously gone three without success. Prior to a 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands in March, Portugal team had previously gone almost 12 months without losing in normal time (though they were defeated on penalties in the Confederations Cup semi-final against Chile). They then threw away a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Tunisia after Andre Silva and Joao Mario’s early strikes, before a goalless draw with Belgium. Goncalo Guedes’ double, either side of Bruno Fernandes’ goal against Algeria, ensured Portugal got back to winning ways before travelling to Russia, however.
Defenders:Cedric Soares, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Raphael Guerreiro
Midfielders:Bernardo Silva, Joao Moutinho, William Carvalho, Bruno Fernandes
Forwards:Goncalo Guedes, Cristiano Ronaldo
Spain’s World Cup preparations were thrown into chaos just two days before their first match when Julen Lopetegui was sacked, having agreed to take over at Real Madrid without consulting national bosses. He has been replaced by Fernado Hierro.
Dani Carvajal is back in training after missing Spain’s final pre-tournament friendly as a result of the injury that forced him to hobble off during the Champions League final. That will give Julen Lopetegui a full squad to choose from for opener against Portugal, but Alvaro Odriozola may continue at right-back having started both the last two friendlies. Iago Aspas scored Spain’s late winner against Tunisia last time out, while Rodrigo had been given the chance to start from the off, but Diego Costa looks set to return for the match against Portugal.
Four Spain players scored five times in World Cup qualifying, and three of them are in the Spanish World Cup squad – Isco, Diego Costa and David Silva. Isco also scored a hat-trick in the 6-1 drubbing of Argentina, while Silva heads to Russia on the back of his instrumental role in Manchester City’s record-breaking season in which he reached double figures for goals and assists. At the other end of the pitch, David de Gea boasted the best shot-stopping record in the Premier League for Manchester United - saving 80% of the shots on target he faced.
Spain team are unbeaten since they were knocked out of Euro 2016 but they have only won two of their last five matches, including their 1-0 win against Tunisia - after Iago Aspas’ late winner - last time out. Their other pre-tournament friendly ended in a 1-1 draw against Switzerland, but they did thrash Argentina 6-1 in March thanks to Isco’s hat-trick. That result followed a 1-1 draw with World Cup holders Germany and a 3-3 draw with World Cup hosts Russia.
Goalkeeper:David de Gea
Defenders:Alvaro Odriozola, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba
Defensive Midfielders:Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Busquets
Attacking Midfielders:David Silva, Isco, Andres Iniesta
Portugal and Spain have played each other 36 times in all competitions, with Spain winning exactly half of those. Portugal have won just six. Last time out, at Euro 2012, a 0-0 draw was followed by Spain winning 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out, while their last World Cup meeting was in 2010, when Spain won 1-0 in South Africa on their way to winning the tournament. Both defensive pairings for that game – Pique/Ramos for Spain and Alves/Pepe for Portugal – could be repeated for this year’s fixture.
Spain have not lost since Euro 2016 – a run of 20 matches unbeaten
Spain have lost their opening match at both of the previous two World Cups. They were European champions at the time of both, but Portugal have that crown now.
Portugal have failed to score in each of their last two opening matches at World Cups – drawing 0-0 with Ivory Coast in 2010 and losing 4-0 to Germany last time out.
Spain have won 18 of their 36 previous matches against Portugal, whereas the Portuguese have won just six.
One of the highlights of the opening round of fixtures, Portugal’s match against Spain could also prove to be one of the most important.
Neither side has started well at the last two World Cups, but Spain go into this tournament in superb form – 20 matches without defeat since Euro 2016, even if they had to leave it late to beat Tunisia last time out.
The man who led them to those 20 unbeaten matches is no longer in charge, however – Julen Lopetegui’s sacking throwing their campaign into chaos on the eve of the tournament. This will be where Spain’s experience is key, and players like Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and David Silva will need to step up.
Spain boast the superior head-to-head record too, with 18 wins in 36 games, including victory when they last met at the World Cup, back in 2010.
With attacking options including David Silva, Isco and Diego Costa – all of whom scored five times in qualifying – and an experienced defensive unit led by Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, it is easy to see why Spain are favourites for this one.
That said, Portugal also boast experience at the back and quality up front – Cristiano Ronaldo will be desperate to add to his 81 international goals as he bids to complete his CV with a World Cup win.
Portugal also ended their major tournament hoodoo when they finally sealed a big title by winning Euro 2016 too, ending Spain’s eight-year reign as European champions.
In qualifying there was very little between them too – Portugal lost their opening game but then won nine in a row to go through, while Spain recorded nine wins and a draw to beat Italy to a place at Russia 2018.
Nevertheless, while there might be little between them, Barcelona defenders Pique and Jordi Alba have got the better of Cristiano Ronaldo before, while Real Madrid team-mate Ramos knows his game inside out too. If Spain can keep Ronaldo quiet, they will be confident of exploiting Portugal’s aging defence at the other end, with the likes of David Silva and Andres Iniesta looking to pick holes in the back four to feed Costa.
It will be close, and it could be a thrilling game, but Spain can just edge it.
Spain are favourites to beat Portugal and kick-off the 2018 World Cup with a vital win but the odds have grown slightly since news of Julen Lopetegui’s sacking broke. You can now back them at 11/10 with Betfair, while the draw is 9/4 and Portugal are 16/5 to win.
With both teams boasting some serious attacking quality, however, you can get 11/10 from Paddy Power, Bet365, Ladbrokes, Betfair and Betway on both teams to score. A word of caution though – Portgual have failed to score in the opening game of each of their last two World Cups.
A Spain win and BTTS returns a best price of 4/1 with Bet365, despite both teams scoring in four of Spain’s last five matches – only Tunisia have not.
The bookmakers are expecting a close game, with two or fewer goals in it, but you can get a best price of 31/21 from 888sport on there being over 2.5 goals.
As for the goals, Diego Costa is favourite to bag at any time at 6/4 with Paddy Power and Betfair, while Cristiano Ronaldo can be backed at a best price of 12/5 with 888sport. However, after his five goals in qualifying and three against Argentina, Isco could worth looking at – he is 28/11 to score at any time with 888sport.
Spain are unbeaten in 20 matches and, while Portugal go into this one as European champions, it is their Iberian neighbours who will kick off as favourites to start with a win. Both teams have scored in four of Spain’s last five games, but the Spanish can still grab a win in Sochi.