2018 FIFA World Cup – Group B Preview & Betting Tips

The following is a team-by-team preview of Group B in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Futures betting tips are also provided. The group contains European heavyweights Portugal and Spain, along with Morocco and Iran.

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Other group previews:

 

Portugal

Portugal

  • FIFA World Ranking (as of June 7): 4
  • Rank by Elo rating (as of June 11): 6
  • Squad:
    • Coach: Fernando Santos
    • Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Goztepe), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon)
    • Defenders: Bruno Alves (Rangers), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Jose Fonte (Dalian Yifang), Mario Rui (Napoli), Pepe (Besiktas), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Ricardo Pereira (Porto), Ruben Dias (Benfica)
    • Midfielders: Adrien Silva (Leicester), Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon), Joao Mario (West Ham), Joao Moutinho (AS Monaco), Manuel Fernandes (Lokomotiv Moscow), William Carvalho (Sporting)
    • Forwards: Andre Silva (AC Milan), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Gelson Martins (Sporting Lisbon), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas)
  • Best World Cup performance: Third place (1966)
  • 2014 World Cup: 3rd in the group stage
  • 2010 World Cup: 2nd in the group stage, knocked out in the Round of 16
  • Qualifying: Won Group B with a 9-0-1 record in the UEFA Confederation qualification.
  • Bookmaker odds: (sourced from bet365)
    • Win group: 3.00
    • Reach knockouts: 1.22
    • Fail to reach knockouts: 4.33
    • Win World Cup: 26.00
  • Analyst predictions: :
    • Shaka Hilsop (ESPN): 2nd in the group, knocked out in the Round of 16
    • Craig Burley (ESPN): 2nd in the group, knocked out in the Round of 16
    • Paul Mariner (ESPN): 2nd in the group, knocked out in the Round of 16
    • Tom Carnduff (SportingLife): 2nd in the group, knocked out in the Round of 16
    • SBNATION: 2nd in the group
    • AccuScore win group probability: 29.1%
    • AccuScore qualify from group probability: 74.2%
  • Good News:
    • Won Euro 2016 and have retained the coach who took them to that title.
    • Led by arguably the best player in the world in Christiano Ronaldo, who scored 15 goals for Portugal in 10 qualifying games (he participated in 9).
    • After losing their first game of qualifying without Ronaldo, Portugal won the remaining 9 straight, scoring 32 goals and conceded only 2.
    • Have kept 5 clean sheets in their last 8 games.
  • Bad News:
    • Won only 1 out of 7 fixtures in regular time on their way to winning Euro 2016. They finished 3rd in their group, behind Hungary and Iceland, before squeaking through to the Round of 16 as the 3rd best of the 3rd placed teams.
    • While Portugal dominated World Cup qualifying they were in a weak pool and 24 of their 32 goals came from Cristiano Ronaldo and Andre Silva, so they could be exposed if either got injured.
    • Have a number of ageing players in the squad, so they might struggle with tiring legs deep into the tournament.
    • Their opening fixture is against Spain, so they could be under pressure in their remaining fixtures if they have a bad opening result.

 
Spain

Spain

  • FIFA World Ranking (as of June 7): 10
  • Rank by Elo rating (as of June 11): 3
  • Squad:
    • Coach: Fernando Hierro
    • Goalkeepers: David de Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao)
    • Defenders: Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Nacho (Real Madrid), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal)
    • Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City).
    • Forwards: Isco (Real Madrid), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid)
  • Best World Cup performance: Winners (2010)
  • 2014 World Cup: 3rd in the group stage
  • 2010 World Cup: 1st in the group stage, went on to win the tournament
  • Qualifying: Won Group G with a 9-1-0 record in the UEFA Confederation qualification.
  • Bookmaker odds: (sourced from bet365)
    • Win group: 1.50
    • Reach knockouts: 1.062
    • Fail to reach knockouts: 10.00
    • Win World Cup: 7.00
  • Analyst predictions: :
    • Shaka Hilsop (ESPN): 1st in the group, knocked out in the semi-finals
    • Craig Burley (ESPN): 1st in the group, knocked out in the quarter-finals
    • Paul Mariner (ESPN): 1st in the group
    • Tom Carnduff (SportingLife): 1st in the group, knocked out in the quarter-finals
    • SBNATION: 1st in the group
    • AccuScore win group probability: 62.8%
    • AccuScore qualify from group probability: 89.8%
  • Good News:
    • Dominated a qualifying group that contained Italy. They scored 36 goals and only conceded 3 in 10 qualifying games.
    • Have a 14-6-0 record since the appointment of Julen Lopetegui as head coach in 2016.
    • Have an incredibly high quality squad with good depth.
  • Bad News:
    • Failed to reach the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup and failed to get past the Round of 16 in Euro 2016 after coming second in their group to Croatia.
    • Lack a clear first-choice centre-forward. Diego Costa doesn’t fit well into their system.
    • Haven’t scored more than 1 goal in any of their last 5 games and it took them 84 minutes to finally break down the Tunisian defence in their last warm-up game. This bodes ominously given that Morocco and Iran are known for their defensive records.
    • Spain’s opening fixture is against Portugal, so they could be under pressure in their remaining fixtures if they have a bad opening result.
    • UPDATE: Spain have sacked manager Julen Lopetegui just two days before their first match.
      This was in response to him accepting a job at Real Madrid for next season. Fernando Hierro will take over as head coach.

 
Morocco

Morocco

  • FIFA World Ranking (as of June 7): 41
  • Rank by Elo rating (as of June 11): 36
  • Squad:
    • Coach: Hervé Renard (France)
    • Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger)
    • Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Romain Saiss (Wolves), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir), Badr Benoun (Raja Casablanca), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), Hamza Mendyl (LOSC)
    • Midfielders: M’barek Boussoufa (Al Jazira), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray), Faycal Fajr (Getafe), Amine Harit (Schalke 04)
    • Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor), Aziz Bouhaddouz (Saint Pauli), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes), Mehdi Carcela (Standard de Liege), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax)
  • Best World Cup performance: Round of 16 (1986)
  • 2014 World Cup: Absent
  • 2010 World Cup: Absent
  • Qualifying: Won Group C with a 3-3-0 record in the CAF Third Round.
  • Bookmaker odds: (sourced from bet365)
    • Win group: 17.00
    • Reach knockouts: 4.50
    • Fail to reach knockouts: 1.20
    • Win World Cup: 501.00
  • Analyst predictions: :
    • Shaka Hilsop (ESPN): 3rd in the group
    • Craig Burley (ESPN): 3rd in the group
    • Paul Mariner (ESPN): 3rd in the group
    • Tom Carnduff (SportingLife): 3rd in the group
    • SBNATION: 3rd in the group
    • AccuScore win group probability: 1.2%
    • AccuScore qualify from group probability: 7.5%
  • Good News:
    • Enter the tournament on a 17-game unbeaten streak.
    • In qualifying they won a tough group without conceding a goal those six games.
    • Head coach Hervé Renard has excellent international experience, having done four previous stints as the coach of national teams. He has good tournament pedigree, having won the Africa Cup of nations in 2012 (with Zambia) and again in 2015 (with the Ivory Coast).
    • Portugal play Spain first up, so if Morocco can beat Iran in their opening fixture, then Portugal and/or Spain will be under a lot of pressure to get a result when they face Morocco.
  • Bad News:
    • Find themselves in a tough group with two top-10 ranked sides.
    • No World Cup experience in the squad and they find themselves in a group where every other team played in the 2014 World Cup.
    • It’s been a while since Morocco faced a high quality opponent.

 
Iran

Iran

  • FIFA World Ranking (as of June 7): 37
  • Rank by Elo rating (as of June 11): 21
  • Squad:
    • Coach: Carlos Queiroz (Portugal)
    • Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)
    • Defenders: Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa), Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Mohammad Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)
    • Midfielders: Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiacos), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mahdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm)
    • Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Ashkan Dejageh (Nottingham Forest), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis)
  • Best World Cup performance: Group stage (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014)
  • 2014 World Cup: 4th in the group stage
  • 2010 World Cup: Absent
  • Qualifying: Winner of Group A with a 6-4-0 record in the AFC Third Round.
  • Bookmaker odds: (sourced from bet365)
    • Win group: 34.00
    • Reach knockouts: 6.50
    • Fail to reach knockouts: 1.11
    • Win World Cup: 501.00
  • Analyst predictions: :
    • Shaka Hilsop (ESPN): 4th in the group
    • Craig Burley (ESPN): 4th in the group
    • Paul Mariner (ESPN): 4th in the group
    • Tom Carnduff (SportingLife): 4th in the group
    • SBNATION: 4th in the group
    • AccuScore win group probability: 6.9%
    • AccuScore qualify from group probability: 28.6%
  • Good News:
    • Went undefeated in 18 qualifying games (12-6-0 on aggregate between the 2nd and 3rd rounds).
    • Kept 9 clean sheets in 10 fixtures in the 3rd round of qualifying.
    • Qualified with the highest number of points of any Asian Confederation team.
    • Coach Carlos Queiroz has been at the helm since 2011 (which includes their 2014 World Cup campaign) and has previously managed Portual, the UAE, South Africa and Real Madrid, as well as various other clubs.
    • Iran have only lost 10 out of 86 games (as of June 6) under his tenure.
    • Iran look far more menacing going forward than they did this time four years ago.
    • Portugal play Spain first up, so if Iran can beat Morocco in their opening fixture, then Portugal and/or Spain will be under a lot of pressure to get a result when they face Iran.
  • Bad News:
    • Find themselves in a tough group with two top-10 ranked sides.
    • Have never progressed past the group stage of a World Cup before.
    • It’s been a while since Iran faced a high quality opponent.

 

Betting tip:

The opening fixtures of Morocco vs. Iran followed by Portugal vs. Spain will be crucial, because if either team picks up 3 points in the first game, then Portugal and Spain will be immediately under pressure to get something out of their opening fixture. It wouldn’t surprise me if both fixtures end in a draw, however, which would play into the hands of the European sides.

Given the defensive strengths of Morocco and Iran, I would back under 1.5 goals in their opening fixture.

Back under 1.5 goals in the Morocco vs. Iran fixture at 2.38 (Unibet)

 

Notes

 

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