Destiny awaits our beloved Seleção in Russia next summer.
In the official draw for the 2018 World Cup finals in Moscow, Portugal were slotted into Group B and given the task of overcoming their Iberian brethren to the east and a familiar foe in Carlos Quieroz, the manager of Iran.
Morocco rounded out a difficult, but not overwhelming Group B. The Seleção will play their first match of the World Cup in Sochi before traveling to Moscow and will complete the group stage in Saransk.
Portugal's position in Group B is arguably favorable in terms of potential Round of 16 opponents as well. Of the teams drawn into Group A, none appear particularly menacing on paper with Russia and Uruguay favored to compete for qualification from the group.
The game of permutations will now go into overdrive for the next 6 months. In a twist of luck, Portugal will face Spain first in the group and regardless of that outcome will still have every chance to progress pending the results of their other two matches, a far more palatable situation compared to the possibility of a final group stage match with Spain needing maximum points, for example.
In Carlos Quieroz's incarnation of Iran, Portugal will face a very tough defense that allowed only two goals in their ten World Cup qualifying matches, albeit against the likes of Syria, South Korea, and Uzbekistan. Iran was undefeated in qualifying, but were held to nil-nil draws several times by much weaker opponents, a sign that their attacking momentum may not be able to carry them to victory against tougher opposition.
Morocco are a team fairly untested outside of matches against opponents from within Africa, their last match against a European opponent ending in a 1-0 defeat to Finland in January of this year. Even so, they were undefeated in their qualification group and allowed zero goals scored while holding out traditional World Cup qualifiers Ivory Coast and Mali in the process.
Though there are no certainties in football, one takeaway from the draw seems to be the need for Portugal to be highly adaptive. Against Spain, the Seleção will likely be forced to play a pragmatic, counterattacking style but then immediately transform into a team that dominates possession and pries open tough defenses against Morocco and Iran. As every Seleção fan knows, teams that park the bus have historically been a difficult prospect for Portugal.
All three nations have tournament history with Portugal. Morocco dramatically knocked Portugal out of the 1986 version while Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first ever World Cup goal in a 2-0 victory over the Iranians in the 2006 group stage. The Seleção played Spain more recently, losing 1-0 in South Africa in 2010, when the Spaniards went on to lift the trophy.
It. Is. On.
by Nathan Motz