Expect a low scoring group, with Spain’s defensive prowess, Fernando Santos’ cautious Portugal, and Morocco and Iran, whose success is based on defensive solidity.
To Qualify: 1.09 Outright: 7.4
Spain are 1.56 to win the group, and as the odds-on favourite, in all three games, the price is difficult to argue with.
Perhaps the bigger question is can they win the World Cup? And the jury is out. They’re priced at 7.4.
Their group opener with Portugal will likely determine which side finishes top, with neither side bigger than 1.57 in their other two group games. However, neither side will want to give anything away at this early stage and Portugal avoided defeat against all of France, Poland and Croatia at Euro 2016.
These two have met twice in recent tournaments, it finished 0-0 in the semi-final of Euro 2012 and Spain won 1-0 in the 2nd round of the 2010 World Cup. The previous competitive meeting was the third group stage game in Euro 2004 where Portugal prevailed 1-0. Ronaldo played in that match, as did many of the Spanish golden generation in Torres, Alonso, Puyol and Casillas whose playing style and mentality has been passed onto the current crop.
After failure at Porto in his one big manager job, Julen Lopetegui now leads this Spain side and has added more guile and ruthlessness to a side that were tactically outclassed by Antonio Conte’s Italy 2-0 in the second round at Euro 2016. He’s evolving tiki-taka into a more penetrative style as shown in victories v Argentina 6-1, Italy 3-0, France 2-0 and Belgium 2-0.
But the main issue will be who starts upfront where it looks likely to be between Diego Costa and Rodrigo. And neither of this duo can live up to the world-class standard of the rest of the team. Costa has just six goals in 18 starts since returning to Atletico and while Rodrigo bagged 16 league goals for Valencia last season: he will likely play from the bench.
Winning the group will be key to further progress, as they’re then likely to face Russia or Egypt in the round of 16 before a potential quarter-final v Argentina/Denmark. A daunting semi-final against Germany looks likely to follow but 7.4 in the outright could look a very nice bet come the last four.
To Qualify: 1.33 Outright: 26.0
Portugal are playing second fiddle to Spain here and 3.06 to win the group seems more than fair bearing in mind they only won one game in 90 minutes en-route to Euro 2016 success, and failed to beat Mexico (twice) and Chile in 90 en route to finish third at the Confederations Cup last summer.
Unsurprisingly, they have a huge reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 20 of Portugal’s 50 goals at the last two tournaments and 40% of their goals in qualification. But it’s important to keep an eye out for his strike partner Andre Silva who got 9 goals to Ronaldo’s 15 in qualification while nobody else managed more than two.
Arguably though, it’s Portugal’s defensive qualities that will dictate their success. Portugal held seven clean sheets in ten games during qualifying.
A second place finish for Portugal would most probably mean a second-round meeting with Uruguay in what is likely to be a low scoring encounter. With not much splitting either sides attack or defence, Portugal should be favoured over 90+ minutes with their extra quality in midfield and a world-class striker upfront. But a quarter-final clash with France could end their chances of further progression.
To Qualify: 4.3 Outright: 501.0
Morocco are 4.3 to qualify, and they are out to spoil the Spain/Portugal party and be the surprise package of the tournament. They have been led by legendary French coach Herve Renard since 2016, and he has been able to mould the squad into an impressive outfit during their qualification.
From a tough qualifying group against Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali they came through without conceding a goal and results against non-African sides have been encouraging as well, defeating Serbia 2-1 when 3.59 and only narrowly losing to Holland. Backing them -0.25 2.01 v Iran appeals.
To Qualify: 7.6 Outright: 851.0
It took Iran until the 82nd minute in their final group game to score a goal at the last World Cup, and it looks to be more of the same this time around under Carlos Queiroz.
Iran are built on an organised and strong defence, scoring only ten goals in ten games in the final round of Asian qualifiers with nine clean sheets.
Their main man is the ‘Iranian Messi’ Sardar Azmoun who has 23 goals in 31 caps. Alireza Jahanbakhsh is another to keep an eye on, having enjoyed somewhat of a breakthrough season in the Dutch Eredivisie for AZ Alkmaar with 18 goals in 32 games.
So can they spring a surprise? There have been encouraging friendly results, beating Algeria, Venezuela, Panama and Montenegro but in none of these games were they as big a dog as they will be here.
Portugal v Spain
A tense affair that is likely to be hugely significant in determining who goes farthest in the tournament so don’t expect either side to throw caution to the wind in the group opener
Best Bet: Under 2.25 goals 1.88 & 0-0 9.50.
Head To Head
- Euro 2012 Portugal 0-0 (P) Spain
- WC 2010 Portugal 0-1 Spain
- Euro 2004 Portugal 1-0 Spain
Portugal to Win & Both Teams to Score No v Iran – 2.00
Portugal are 1.40 to win, so boosting this bet to close to evens by relying on Portugal keeping a clean sheet looks value. Iran scored just one goal in three games at the last World Cup and just twice outside of Iran in qualifying.
- 36 – Spain scored 36 goals in 10 qualifiers, compared to just 14 in 8 in qualifying for Brazil 2014
- 4 – While Portugal’s World Cup record is patchy, they’ve made the semis or better in four of the last five Euros, culminating in winning last summer
- 90% – Nine out of ten of Iran’s final round of qualifiers finished under 2.5 goals