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FIFA World Cup 2018: Group B review

Group B

Portugal (pot 1)

Pedigree: Portugal are the reigning European champions, having beaten hosts France 1-0 in the final of Euro 2016. Their best performance at a World Cup came when they finished third in 1966 and they also reached the semi-finals in 2006 yet failed to make it out of the group phase in Brazil in 2014.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 79 international goals for Portugal

Key player: Who else? Cristiano Ronaldo. He has been voted the best player in the world four times, he is the country’s most capped player and also their record goalscorer. The Real Madrid forward, a four-time Champions League winner, scored 15 goals for Portugal during their World Cup qualification campaign.

Premier League players: Adrien Silva (Leicester), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Renato Sanches (Swansea, on loan from Bayern Munich), Jose Fonte (West Ham).

Championship player: Nelson Oliveira (Norwich)

Scottish Premiership player: Bruno Alves (Rangers)

Who’s the boss? Fernando Santos took charge in September 2014 and guided Portugal to their first international success with victory in Euro 2016. He was manager of Greece during the 2014 World Cup, taking the team into the last 16, where they lost to Costa Rica on penalties.

Spain (pot 2)

Pedigree: Currently ranked 11th in the world. They held the number one spot from 2008 until 2013. Spain were world champions in 2010, as well as European champions in 2008 and 2012.

Isco scored two goals in Spain's 3-0 win over Italy in February
Isco scored two goals in Spain’s 3-0 win over Italy in February

Key player: Real Madrid attacking midfielder Isco has been in fine form during qualifying, with six goals and an assist in Spain’s past seven matches. He has seven goals in 23 appearances in his international career.

Premier League players: Juan Mata (Manchester United), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Alvaro Morata (Chelsea), David de Gea (Manchester United), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Ander Herrera (Manchester United), Pedro (Chelsea), David Silva (Manchester City).

Who’s the boss? Julen Lopetegui was appointed in July 2016 and remains unbeaten in 13 matches in charge. He has won the European Championships with Spain’s U21s and U19s, although he has never coached a side at a senior major tournament.

Morocco (pot 4)

Pedigree: Morocco will be making their first appearance at a World Cup finals in 20 years next summer. In 1998 in France, a win, a draw and a defeat was not enough for them to qualify from the group stage. They have managed this feat just once in four attempts at finals, in Mexico in 1986 when they reached the last 16, where they were beaten 1-0 by eventual runners-up West Germany.

Key player: He has not been a regular with club side Juventus this season (there is some stiff competition there at the back) but defender Medhi Benatia is extremely highly rated at the Italian champions, who signed him on a permanent deal from Bayern Munich this year following a successful loan spell. The 30-year-old is Morocco’s captain and has 52 caps to his name, five of which came during a 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign in which they did not concede a goal. He also scored one of the goals in the 2-0 win over Ivory Coast that sealed their place in Russia.

Medhi Benatia
Medhi Benatia joined Juventus from Bayern Munich on a permanent deal in May

Premier League players: Sofiane Boufal (Southampton)

Championship players: Romain Saiss (Wolves)

Who is the boss? Frenchman Herve Renard has had something of a nomadic coaching career since retiring from playing in 1998. One of his early roles was as boss of Cambridge United, who he joined in the summer of 2004 and left 25 games later with the club second bottom of League Two. Since then he has won the Africa Cup of Nations twice, with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015. After an unsuccessful stint as Lille boss, he took over as Morocco head coach in 2016.

Iran (pot 3)

Pedigree: This is the fifth time Iran have qualified for a World Cup, but their only victory in the tournament remains a 2-1 win over the United States at France 98.

Carlos Queiroz
Carlos Queiroz has led Iran to back-to-back World Cups

Key player: Striker Sardar Azmoun is arguably Asia’s best striker since his compatriot Ali Daei, who scored more international goals than any other male player. The 22-year-old Azmoun is strong with both feet, and in the air, and plays his club football for Russian side Rubin Kazan.

Premier League players: None

Who’s the boss? Carlos Queiroz has a CV to rival any manager in international football. Via Sporting Lisbon, South Africa, Real Madrid, Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United and two stints in charge of Portugal, it is with Iran that Queiroz has spent the past six years.

“They fight for their lives, they fight for history, they fight for their reputations,” said the Portuguese, having seen Iran become the highest-placed Asian side in Fifa’s rankings at 24th.

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