With the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicking off in less than a month, SoccerNews.com is commencing its own series of group predictions where you will be able to find previews of all the teams taking part in this summer’s showpiece tournament, latest team news and best betting odds and suggestions.
As it’s expected – we started with the Group A, and now we will follow with Group B. This group is viewed by experts and pundits as one of the most uneven groups in the competition, and there are several reasons to believe that based on which teams have been slotted here.
Spain look like the main favourite in this group, and they will go toe-to-toe with reigning European champions Portugal for the first place. Morocco can make things complicated for both of them, but their chances of qualifying are rather slim. And last but not least, we have Iran. The Asian side will probably be happy just to qualify, because there is no real chance of them getting past any of the three aforementioned nations.
Estes são os nossos convocados para o Mundial! #ConquistaOSonho
— Portugal (@selecaoportugal) 17 de mayo de 2018
One would have thought that Portugal are the seeded team in this group, but Portugal earned that right by virtue of their FIFA ranking. But make no mistake here, as the Iberic side has earned their right to be considered among the very best teams thanks to their recent displays. They won the 2016 European Championship, finished third in the 2017 Confederations Cup, and cruised their way into the World Cup with relative ease.
Led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal finished at the top of Group B with an impressive performance that saw them won nine of their 10 matches. With 27 points out of 30 possible, they topped Switzerland on goal differential (+28 to +16) and finished well above Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia, and Andorra. It was an easy group, but Portugal had to wait until the final match to seal their qualification berth thanks to a 2-0 home win over the Swiss. Their top scorer was Cristiano Ronaldo – who else? – with 15 goals.
There were quite a few surprises on Fernando Santos’ list. First of all, neither Nelson Semedo nor Andre Gomes – both play for FC Barcelona – were left out of the squad. Some interesting names that do appear are Joao Mario (West Ham) and Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon), who clinched their squad spots thanks to their strong second halves of the season, and Goncalo Guedes, the Valencia star that left Nani out of the team.
But there is no question that all eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid superstar is Portugal’s all-time leading scorer and at 33 years old, this will probably be his final chance to win a World Cup title with his country. At the very least, he has an interesting supporting cast around him.
🚨 OFICIAL | 46 millones de ilusiones en sus botas, en sus manos… ¡¡ESTOS SON #NUESTROS23!!
🔁 ¡RT PARA APOYARNOS! pic.twitter.com/XBx0e4uOcB
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) 21 de mayo de 2018
La Furia Roja are ready to leave their 2014 World Cup disappointment in the rear view, as they entered that tournament as the World Cup champions but got kicked out in the group stage. That prompted a huge renewal of the squad under the leadership of Julen Lopetegui, and there is no question that the process has worked out even better than expected.
Spain topped the Group G standings undefeated, registering nine wins and one draw in 10 matches. They topped Italy by a five-point differential (28 to 23 pts), and also finished well above the remaining teams in the group: Albania, Israel, Macedonia and Liechtenstein. Their goalscoring tally was distributed quite evenly, as four players – Diego Costa, Isco, Alvaro Morata and David Silva – finished with five goals, while Vitolo had four goals.
Surprisingly, neither Morata nor Vitolo made the 23-man squad. Neither did Chelsea stars Marcos Alonso and Cesc Fabregas, Manchester United’s Juan Mata, and Napoli’s Jose Callejon. Nonetheless, the core of David De Gea, Sergio Ramos, Isco and Diego Costa. Other surprising additions were Nacho Monreal over Alonso, and Alvaro Odriozola over Sergi Roberto.
With that being said, there are several players worth watching. However, no Spanish player will shine brighter than Andres Iniesta. The former FC Barcelona star – that sounds quite odd, doesn’t it? – will play his final World Cup with La Furia Roja. And he will play a pivotal role on a Spanish side that will look for their second World Cup title in the past three editions.
OFFICIAL: Morocco’s 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup. 🇲🇦 pic.twitter.com/Ggaqv5JJvh
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) 18 de mayo de 2018
Morocco were one of the most surprising teams in the African World Cup Qualifiers, and for a variety of reasons. Aside from the fact that they topped a group that included Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali – arguably the toughest zone in the entire continent – but it is also how they did it what should be the most amazing thing. Morocco ended Group C in the third round of the CAF Qualifiers undefeated, registering three wins and three draws in six games, while scoring 11 times and conceding none. Their top scorer was Khalid Boutaib with four goals.
It will be incredibly hard to repeat that kind of defensive prowess considering they will match up against Spain and Portugal. But at the same time, that should be enough reasons to make fans believe they can pull an upset or two.
The African side does not have a lot of world-class players, but there are a few players that should caught everyone’s eyes. Herve Renard submitted the official 23-man squad and the first name that stands out is Mehdi Benatia, who is coming off an incredible year playing for Juventus in the Serie A. Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray) and Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) are also a few players worth watching on Russian soil.
— FootTheBall⚽ (@FootTheBall) 22 de mayo de 2018
Last but not least, we have Iran. Arguably the underdogs in Group B, the Asian side does not have a big chance to make it past the next round. And if fact, it would be a huge surprise if they manage to get a point at all. But that does not mean that they should be taken for granted. Iran had some bright moments during the Asian World Cup Qualifiers, and definitively deserved their spot in the competition.
Carlos Queiroz’s men breezed through the first rounds of the qualifying rounds. And when things got tougher in Group A, they responded to the challenge with a stellar. Squared in Group A against South Korea, Syria, Uzbekistan, Syria and Qatar, Iran finished undefeated with six wins and four draws in 10 matches, registering 10 goals scored and only two conceded. Their top scorer across the entire qualifying round was Sardar Azmoun, who finished with 11 goals.
Azmoun is one of the top players to watch on the Iranian team, as the Rubin Kazan star already proved his worth during the qualifying round. However, he is not alone on the attacking end. Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar) was the top scorer in the Eredivisie with 21 goals and 12 assists, and Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen) added eight goals as well. If we add Azmoun’s goals in the Russian Premier League (five goals), then the trio combines for 34 goals.
The rest of the side, however, lacks world-class quality. So their chances to make something in the World Cup will definitively rely on their attacking trio.
Group B could easily end up featuring the top scorer in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and two potential title candidates. That’s why there are some interesting betting offers that could bring excitement for all of those looking to find value in less obvious markets.
For instance, Cristiano Ronaldo is 14/1 to finish the 2018 World Cup as the top scorer. Portugal is considered to be a darkhorse to win the title, as they sit as a 22/1 favourite to win the title, and 11/2 to finish in the Top 3. Spain, however, are an even bigger favourite at 6/1 value.
For those looking for an upset, Morocco are 3/1 to qualify for the next round. That seems like a long shot, but they have enough tools to make it happen.
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