World Cup Preview – Group B | Morocco v Iran – Portugal v Spain

Friday sees both opening games in Group B take place which includes Portugal v Spain in one of the most anticipated clashes of the first phase in Russia.

From the moment the Iberian neighbours were drawn with each other, everyone was looking forward to the big derby clash.

And there is certainly a lot of attention on the game in Sochi, as Spain have Fernando Hierro in charge, who only took charge on Wednesday following the shock sacking of Real Madrid-bound Julen Lopetegui.

New head coach Hierro is ready for the challenge, and said: “We’ve come to fight for the World Cup. We have a great opportunity and that should be the focus.

“When the president told me of the possibility (to become coach), I had three choices: to say no, another was to go and the third was to stay – to take a step forward for the Spanish Federation and for Spanish football. I couldn’t say no because I would not forgive myself.”

Portuguese boss Fernando Santos does is looking forward to facing Spain but does not think the change of coach will make any difference.

“It is Spain and Portugal,” Santos said. “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.”

The opening game in the group sees Morocco take on Iran in St Petersburg.

The Africans are firm favourites to progress, and some even believe they can push Spain and Portugal, but coach Herve Renard – in his first World Cup – is full of respect for Iran and their coach Carlos Queiroz.

“We have a coach who will play his fourth World Cup, I’m here for the first time, I’m a beginner,” said Renard.

“But we are not here to take pictures of the monuments in St Petersburg. We are here to compete. Mr Queiroz is always full of surprises, but since the draw we have given a lot of thought to the Iran team.”

Queiroz himself admits Iran are outsiders but he insists they are not just in Russia to make up the numbers.

“They are one of the favorite candidates to move into the second round, but we don’t tolerate anybody telling us that we are not capable of winning,” said Queiroz.

“We don’t tolerate anybody undermining our expectations and our hopes. We are here to compete with the favourites.”

See below for a preview on the games, including predictions from former England and Tottenham midfielder Andy Gray and our own Football Insider Graeme Bailey and bet365’s Steve Freeth.

Morocco 16:00 Iran
St Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg
Live on ITV

TEAM NEWS AND POSSIBLE LINE-UPS: Iran have Saeid Ezatolahi suspended whilst also doubts over Mehdi Taremi’s and Askhan Dejagah. Morocco are waiting on the fitness of Nabil Dirar.

Iran: Ali Beiranvand; Milad Mohammadi, Morteza Pouraliganji, Roozbeh Cheshmi, Pejman Montazeri; Masoud Shojaei, Ehsan Haji Safi, Omid Ebrahimi; Vahid Amiri, Sardar Azmoun, Alireza Jahanbakhsh

Morocco: Monir El Kajoui; Hamza Mendyl, Romain Saiss, Mehdi Benatia, Achraf Hakimi; Hakim Ziyech, Mbark Boussoufa, Younes Belhanda, Karim El Ahmadi, Noureddine Amrabat; Khalid Boutaib

KEY FACT: Morocco are currently on a run of 18 games unbeaten 
Match odds from bet365: MOROCCO 5/4 DRAW 21/10 IRAN 29/10
bet365 Pick: Morocco @5/4
ANDY SAYS: I think Morocco win this, they have a decent side and will beat Iran here…2-0
GRAEME SAYS: A close call but I see Morocco edging this one…2-1
FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Achraf Hakimi – the young Real Madrid defender is just over a £1 but he has the chance to impress here

Portugal 19:00 Spain
Fisht Stadium, Sochi
Live on BBC

TEAM NEWS AND POSSIBLE LINE-UPS: Portugal have a fully fit squad, but they have a decision to make up-front with either Andre Silva or Goncalo Guedes joining Cristiano Ronaldo in attack. Spain have a doubt over right back Dani Carvajal, who has a hamstring injury, so Alvaro Odriozola is on stand-by to come in.

Portugal: Rui Patricio; Raphael Guerreiro, Jose Fonte, Pepe, Cedric; Joao Mario, Joao Moutinho, William, Bernardo Silva; Cristiano Ronaldo, Goncalo Guedes

Spain: David De Gea; Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Nacho; Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara; Andres Iniesta, Isco, David Silva; Diego Costa

KEY FACT: Spain have won only two of their last 12 opening games
Match odds from bet365: PORTUGAL 16/5 DRAW 11/5 SPAIN 11/10
bet365 Pick: Spain to win @11/10
ANDY SAYS: Close game and I can see them cancelling each other out and playing out a draw…0-0
GRAEME SAYS: I don’t see either team committing too much, and they will be happy to play for a draw…0-0
FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Cristiano Ronaldo – Currently ranked number five, could he go back to number one? He needs a good tournament to do so

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