European heavyweights Spain and Portugal are joined by Morocco and Iran in Group B of the 2018 Fifa World Cup and we take a look at the form, squads and outright betting markets concerning each nation.
Note, odds quoted are an average price, accurate at the time of writing but subject to change
Qualification: Qualified as winners of their group 5 points clear of Italy (who subsequently missed out in the play offs) and 15 in front of third placed Albania.
Form: Spain were almost foot perfect in qualifying, winning 9 and drawing 1, scoring 36 goals and conceding just 3. A 1-1 draw in Italy was the only qualifier Spain failed to win and including friendly internationals they haven’t lost a football match since they exited Euro 2016 (to Italy) at the quarter final stage.
Having being crowned champions in South Africa 2010 Spain failed to make it beyond the group stage in the World Cup 2014 finals, losing their first 2 matches to the Netherlands (5-1) and Chile (2-0).
Goalkeepers: Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao)
Defenders: Nacho Fernandez, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal (all Real Madrid), Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba (both Barcelona), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets (both Barcelona), Saul Niguez, Koke (both Atletico Madrid), Isco, Marco Asensio (both Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City)
Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid)
To win the group 9/20
To qualify from the group 1 / 16
Qualification: Edged top spot in their group ahead of Switzerland with the pair finishing 14 points clear of third place Hungary.
Form: Portugal won 9 and lost 1 of their 10 group qualifiers, scoring 32 goals and conceding just 4. They lost their first group match 2-0 in Switzerland but quickly recovered and a 2-0 home win over the Swiss in the return saw them finish top on goal difference.
Portugal were surprise winners of Euro 2016 after a heart stopping tournament including draws in all 3 group matches. In the knockout rounds they beat Croatia in extra time, Poland in a penalty shoot out, saw off Wales 2-0 and then beat hosts France in extra time in the final.
In the World Cup 2014 finals Portugal failed to make it out of the group after being hammered 4-0 by Germany, drawing 2-2 with USA and a 2-1 win over Ghana was not enough to prevent an early exit.
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)
To win the group 19/10
To qualify from the group 1 / 5
Qualification: Topped their qualifying group, finishing 4 points clear of Ivory Coast with Gabon and Mali making up the numbers.
Form: Morocco were unbeaten in their 6 qualifying group matches, winning 3 and drawing 3 with 11 goals scored and they didn’t concede. Their stand out result was a 2-0 win at Ivory Coast that clinched their place in the finals for the first time since 1998.
Morocco came through their AFCON 2017 final group with 2 wins and 1 draw before bowing out 1-0 to Egypt in the first knockout round.
Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger)
Defenders: Medhi 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).
To win the group 31/2
To qualify from the group 4/1
Qualification: Topped one of the 2 groups in the Asia region finishing 7 points clear of South Korea.
Form: Iran’s qualifying campaign was impressive as they finished unbeaten with 6 wins and 4 draws. Those group matches were short on goals with Iran scoring just 10 and conceding only twice.
Iran have been busy with friendly matches including a 1-1 draw in Russia in October last year.
In the 2014 World Cup finals Iran started with a 0-0 draw against Nigeria before losing to Argentina (1-0) and Bosnia &H (3-1)
Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo).
Defenders: Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal).
Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiacos), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis).
Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Mehdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest).
To win the group 31/1
To qualify from the group 6/1
Group B Verdict:
The top 2 in the group betting, Spain and Portugal, will be a popular choice for straight forecast bets in Group B although if you fancy taking a price at around 13/10 for Spain to win it with ~Portugal second, be my guest. I say that as Morocco are far from also rans and the Iranians qualifying form suggests they are no mugs.
African qualifying form might well be underestimated and whilst the draw has done them very few favours, I’m going to take a speculative play on Morocco to make it out of the group.
Group B Pick, Morocco to qualify at around 4/1 or better
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