After helping his side to an ‘unlikely’ Euro triumph last time out, Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal teammates will be hoping to shock the world in Russia again.
The reigning European Kings have been given a tough test in their opening match as they face Iberia rivals, Spain who are equally seen as favourites to win the 2018 World Cup.
Though the camp of Spain is seen as disorganized following the sacking of their erstwhile manager, Julen Lopetegui barely 48 hours to this important duel, the former World Champions are still expected to give a good show on Friday.
HEAD TO HEAD:
Spain enjoy a better head to head record than the European Champions, the two sides have met on 36 occasions with the Portuguese national team claiming a win eight times and 12 draws and suffered 18 defeats from the Spanish team.
The teams last faced off in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 – Spain winning that one on penalties following a stalemate in normal time at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.
Current Form [Last 5 matches]
|Portugal 2 – 1 Egypt||Russia 3 – 3 Spain|
|Portugal 0 – 3 Netherlands||Germany 1 – 1 Spain|
|Portugal 2 – 2 Tunisia||Spain 6 – 1 Argentina|
|Belgium 0 – 0 Portugal||Spain 1 – 1 Switzerland|
|Portugal 3 – 0 Algeria||Tunisia 0 – 1 Spain|
Three duels to watch
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Gerard Pique
Pique is no stranger to Ronaldo, of course. They’ve met each other umpteen times in Clasicos and Ronaldo has got the better of him in recent years with some fine goals.
Pique will be key to handling Ronaldo – be it in one-on-one situations or on set-pieces.
Diego Costa vs. Pepe
Costa provides Spain with a different attacking dimension, compared to the rest of the options that new boss Fernando Hierro has available.
Costa must be at his best to navigate past former Real Madrid defender Pepe, who now plies his trade in Turkey with Beşiktaş. The 35-year-old is a key player for Portugal and his defensive prowess could be key to stopping the powerful Costa.
Andrés Iniesta vs. William Carvalho
After an emotional final season at Barcelona, Andrés Iniesta will be looking to end this chapter of his career on a high at the World Cup.
He will be up against Sporting midfielder William Carvalho, known for his defensive prowess and ability to break up play. This will make for an exciting battle in the centre of the park.
The referee in charge: Gianluca Rocchi has been picked to referee the game between the two Iberian opponents. The Italian has officiated various crucial European games, including the first leg of Real Madrid’s encounter against Paris Saint-Germain from this season, as well as the second leg of the Europa League semi-final between Atletico Madrid and Arsenal.
WORLD CUP FACT: None of Spain’s last 14 games at the World Cup have ended in a draw (W10 L4).
Venue: The Fisht Olympic Stadium is a 40,000-capacity stadium and was constructed for the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
Prediction: Portugal 1-2 Spain