Fisht Olympic Stadium – World Cup Group B
Spain and Portugal begin their World Cup campaigns when they clash at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on Friday evening in what is sure to be a fiery meeting. As the two favourites to qualify from Group B, neither will want to start with a defeat and hand group opponents Morocco and Iran hope of advancing at their expense.
These two neighbours are used to facing each other and have met six times since the turn of the century, each winning twice. The most recent fixture came in the semi-finals of the 2012 European Championships. With the scoreboard untroubled after 120 minutes of football, Spain booked their place in the final with a 4-2 penalty shootout win.
Veteran Bruno Alves looks set to partner Pepe at the back for Portugal, who have no new injury worries ahead of the match. Spain will probably be missing Real Madrid right-back Dani Carvajal who picked up a hamstring injury in the Champions League final. Alvaro Odriozola or Cesar Azpilicueta will deputise. Sergio Busquets had been ill earlier this month but he recovered to play 90 minutes in the friendly victory over Tunisia.
Portugal v Spain Preview and Predictions
As Spain and Portugal are geographical and sporting rivals, this could have an added bit of bite – particularly when compared with other opening games at a World Cup. The first fixtures can often be drab affairs with neither team wanting to give their opponents an advantage.
Spain are the odds-on favourites for this at 10/11 and understandably so as their unbeaten run stretches right back to June 2016. That streak includes amassing 28 points from their ten-match qualifying campaign and conceding only three times.
But Portugal, who are 18/5 outsiders to win, are similarly stubborn at the back, with teams finding a way past them on just four occasions in Group B. With only Switzerland providing any real challenge for Ronaldo and his team mates, though, punters would do well to concentrate rather on the ordinary Portuguese performances shown in the run-up to the tournament. Fernando Santos’ side have won just two of their last six friendly games, against Egypt and Algeria.
With Morocco and Iran the other teams in group B, both Spain and Portugal will fancy their chances of amassing at least six points and qualifying. With that in mind, the draw at 9/4 seems a likely option. Expect there to be a few cards brandished as these neighbours do battle, though. Sergio Ramos to be booked at 9/5 could be a steal.
Draw and under 2.5 goals at 14/5
A defeat for either side would have them sweating ahead of the final two matches, so each nation will probably err on the side of caution.
0-0 correct score at 15/2
There have only been four goals in the last four competitive matches between Portugal and Spain and the circumstances dictate that trend is unlikely to buck here.