Just two and a half months separate us from the start of the World Cup. Portugal’s friendly matches sparked much debate about the current state of the Seleção and who should make the plane to Russia. But what about Portugal’s Group B opponents?

With the proviso that two friendlies are not ideal material to draw definitive conclusions, PortuGOAL tasked football analyst Tiago Estêvão to examine what the internationals played this past week told us about Spain, Morocco and Iran.

 

Spain

There were no major surprises in the Spanish call-up by former FC Porto boss Julen Lopetegui. Midfielders Parejo and Rodri, from Valencia and Villarreal respectively, got their first call-ups in the midst of incredibly consistent seasons at club level. I wouldn’t be overly surprised if either got a spot in the plane to Russia but neither seem to be close to a starting spot.

Marcos Alonso, an important starter for Chelsea for almost two seasons, got his debut for the national team but will only be competing for the second Left-Back spot in the squad since Jordi Alba is a guaranteed starter in Russia. Up top, Morata – who was their top scorer at Euro 2016 and in the World Cup qualifiers – has been falling out of favour at Chelsea, so Diego Costa, with his fire rekindled since moving back to Atletico in January, replaced him. 

Spain faced two very strong teams during this international break and did great – looking dominant both in a 1-1 draw versus Germany and in their 6-1 destruction of a Messi-less Argentina. Although Busquets missed out through injury – and he'll be a key part of the team come the summer – Lopetegui used a consistent team that gives us a clear idea of how they’ll be shaping up in Russia. Their backline, with players equally divided between Real Madrid and Barcelona, even started both matches during this international break.

From midfield onwards, fluidity will reign with what seem like endless options. They won’t really use classic wingers, instead playing a couple of smart movers who are great at combining play, while getting their width from their full-backs. We all know Spain’s classic style of play and under Lopetegui they have renewed their team under the same convections. Usual suspects like Iniesta or David Silva are now accompanied by a younger generation with the likes of Isco and Asensio, on top of a – hopefully for the sake of football – fit Thiago Alcantara. Between Diego Costa and ex-Benfica forward Rodrigo they have two very different options to lead the line as well.

They’re clearly one of the candidates to win the tournament but, weirdly enough, they’re the team I’m less nervous about Portugal facing. The majority of our problems over the last two years are related to our structure in possession and, since Spain won’t let us take over that aspect of the game, we might be okay to contend for a result. Unlike what Argentina did against them, we won’t even try to play through their press: likely opting for a counter-attacking, more longer-ball fuelled game instead. While it’s tough to find weaknesses in their game, they were exposed here and there on the counter and in set-pieces. If we can take advantage of space in behind, which we tend to, and if a couple of set-piece routines are set-up over the preparation period – something I think would be tremendously important for the tournament – we could surprise many in the opening fixture.

 

Morocco

Herve Renard didn’t bring many surprises in his call-up for this national team break, as Morocco faced Serbia and Uzbekistan. The major news was Ayoub El Kaabi, a striker who plays in Morocco for RS Berkane, getting his first call-up and even scoring in the second game, but he is still very unlikely to play a major role in Russia. Zakaria Labyad, who had a disappointing period with Sporting CP, got his first call-up since 2015, and his sixth cap. The attacking midfielder is having an amazing season with Utrecht in the Netherlands which might give him access to a spot on the plane and a role as an impactful substitute.

Renard’s men ended up beating Serbia 2-1 and Uzbekistan 2-0. While the latter result could be regarded as slightly less impressive, beating a Serbia side that qualified at the top of their qualifying group and will be playing at the World Cup this summer is notable. It’s worth mentioning that the starting line-up that played against Serbia is a lot closer to what I’m expecting in June; they then proceeded to rotate a bit more against Uzbekistan.

Although I don’t expect them to try and take the game to Portugal, their team is full of technical players capable of quickly creating chances upon recovering possession. Although Portugal tends to have issues breaking teams down, they’re not really used to being without possession for long and aren’t as organized without the ball as Iran, for example. Instead, our defensive transition will be the key for the game against Morocco. Due to how quick and technically capable they will punish Portugal if we don’t transition properly after losing the ball.

Their main team is also pretty set for Russia. From the midfield forward, there are plenty of well-known names playing throughout Europe, but Hakim Ziyech gets the nod as the star. Nothing short of outstanding for Ajax over the past two seasons, he will be roaming and coordinating the team’s offensive moves, combining the ability to create chances from pretty much anything, with the capacity to also finish some of his team’s moves.

Up top, Khalid Boutaib deserves a mention due to simultaneously being key for Morocco while being probably the most unknown outfielder in their usual line-up. The experienced 30-year-old striker has scored 12 goals for a mid-table side in Turkey this season, after scoring 20 in the second French tier in 2016/17. He is not just a good finisher, he is threatening in the air – arguably the section of the game that our backline is most comfortable with, but still worth noting.

Their backline is a bit mix-and-match, though. Saiss, usually Ruben Neves’s midfield partner at Wolves, is a starter at centre-back (ahead of Portuguese youth international Manuel da Costa), Dirar, who usually plays as more of a winger at club level, slots in at right-back and young Real Madrid right-back Achraf Hakimi is switched to the left side. Juventus’ Benatia is the solid presence that the rest of the backline is built around. And while having full-backs capable of providing offensive support, and Saiss aiding build-up from deep is great, positionally it can be exploited.

Morocco finished the last qualifying group stage without a single goal conceded. But the only games in that period in which they kept less of the ball were against Ivory Coast, a country whose attack is the complete opposite from Portugal’s: lots of quick players and swift movement, as opposed to Portugal’s crossing-heavy approach. Morocco might have more trouble with the latter simply because they haven’t been exposed to it as often at all.

 

Iran

Carlos Queiroz’s Iran team faced both Tunisia and Algeria during this international pause, in what seems to be a preparation focused heavily on their opening fixture against the other northern African side: Morocco. Dejagah, who played an important part in the qualifying campaign, is out injured and recently underwent surgery. Not only did he miss these friendlies, but he could possibly be out of the tournament in the summer. The call-up included Marítimo goalkeeper Abedzadeh, who has recently won the starting spot in Madeira but didn’t get any minutes during this stint with the national side.

They ended up with a 1-0 defeat to Tunisia, who will be in Russia this summer, and a 2-1 over Algeria who will not. Carlos Queiroz rotated the line-up a lot from midfield onwards from one game to the other but kept the back-line relatively stable.

Iran finished top of their qualifying group in Asia by a whopping 7 points, conceding only twice in a group that had South Korea, against whom they drew 0-0 and won 1-0. The very well-organized team that we saw in Brazil four years ago is now complimented with a couple of attacking talents that can put a dent in any opponent, which makes this Iran a real threat.

Sardar Azmoun finished as the team’s top scorer in the qualifiers – on top of getting a beautiful headed goal against Algeria in this friendly – and although he hasn’t been having the best season at club level, is still an exciting young finisher to look out for. Arguably just as threatening is Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who is having his second great season in a row with AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands. Usually playing from the right side, he is a threat when it comes to both goalscoring and chance creation. The Portuguese defence isn’t particularly quick at all so it’s in our best interest to avoid putting ourselves in defensive 1v1s.

Portugal have tended to blindly resort to an endless number of crosses against any side that sits back and doesn’t allow us much space to build through, and it’ll likely be even worse against a properly organized side that will want to force Portugal to do exactly that. It’ll be important to establish a better structure in possession purely so we aren’t forced to resort to crosses, instead being able to combine play and let the individual quality that we have shine through.

Against Algeria, the moments in which they were most in trouble were in situations where the Algerians had their players making movements inwards from wide to then find spaces between the Iranian defensive lines, either to dribble or to pass the ball through. The involvement from our “wingers” will be key for June’s World Cup fixture.

By Tiago Estêvão

 

Comments (15)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

This is great and thank you Tiago.


Still we all know what we will see on the pitch come game time.

Spain - will control possession and try to dribble or pass through our D.

Morocco - will park every bus from Kabat with them and hope for some...

This is great and thank you Tiago.


Still we all know what we will see on the pitch come game time.

Spain - will control possession and try to dribble or pass through our D.

Morocco - will park every bus from Kabat with them and hope for some error at the back. The goal is to play for the tie. Formation 10-0-0.

Iran - will park every bus from Tehran with them and hope for some error at the back. The goal is to play for the tie. Formation 10-0-0.

There should also be a monetary reward for beating any team coached by the WORST coach in Portuguese Selecao history, Carlos Quieroz.

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Sorry about the typo, its Rabat. Heck they will park all the buses from both cities then!

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I doubt Morocco will park every bus. They beat us 3-1 before in the world cup & they haven't conceded a single goal in qualifying. . Their back line is comprised of very good defenders who quickly launch their attack What I'm worried about is...

I doubt Morocco will park every bus. They beat us 3-1 before in the world cup & they haven't conceded a single goal in qualifying. . Their back line is comprised of very good defenders who quickly launch their attack What I'm worried about is them & Iran not Spain who I think we can beat if we score early

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I do not understand why we are underestimating our team, having the best player in the world on our side.

After reading the comment it Looks that the Selecao team of 23 will add up to the spectators numbers and watch the Bus being parked.

Lets...

I do not understand why we are underestimating our team, having the best player in the world on our side.

After reading the comment it Looks that the Selecao team of 23 will add up to the spectators numbers and watch the Bus being parked.

Lets not demoralise the team but get behind the team.

Be Positive

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

@Val.... Valid points!
Quieroz was a pathetic Senior side coach for us agreed. BUT I’d say António Olivera has him beat in the much coveted FAIL DEPT after the 2002 shambolic display.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Paulo6 - Oliveira was shambolic in 2002 but I like to give him a pass due to the all around scandalous cheat fest that was WC Korea.

Neville - I am not making fun of Portugal. I am making fun of the other teams. I can guarantee Iran and Morocco...

Paulo6 - Oliveira was shambolic in 2002 but I like to give him a pass due to the all around scandalous cheat fest that was WC Korea.

Neville - I am not making fun of Portugal. I am making fun of the other teams. I can guarantee Iran and Morocco will both have press conferences where they will say the same old stuff every nation says "We do not fear our opponents but we respect them and we are here to WIN!" and we all know its a bunch of bologna. They are here to TIE and they will bring the Mourinho bus strategy with them and never cross the middle of the pitch. All 11 men behind the ball and interfere, foul, hold, trip.

Also the coach of Spain is Loopysticky, possibly the only coach in Porto history to be more hated by Portistas than non-Portistas. With Loopysticky at the helm Spain is always beatable. Thank God Spain doesn't have a top end coach or they would be scary good.

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I highly doubt they will park the bus. They didnt park the bus last time they played us in the world cup & their defender that plays for Juventus stopped CR7 all game

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

@Val haha.. Absolute cheat fest-Fifa special that was!
I just have so many bad memories about that WC from the players getting all drunked up in Macau, too players having no discipline on the field, and to Olivera walking around on one leg...

@Val haha.. Absolute cheat fest-Fifa special that was!
I just have so many bad memories about that WC from the players getting all drunked up in Macau, too players having no discipline on the field, and to Olivera walking around on one leg looking like a lost monkey.

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

LOL! So true.

This is why there is such a divide at times between the Fernando Santos defenders and those who criticise him at times. We are probably around the same age so we remember how AWFUL the Selecao has been at times and how glorious...

LOL! So true.

This is why there is such a divide at times between the Fernando Santos defenders and those who criticise him at times. We are probably around the same age so we remember how AWFUL the Selecao has been at times and how glorious they can be (Euro 2000 best team I have ever seen).

WC Korea was a special one for sure. The screwjobs on Italy and Spain were tough to watch, even for a Portuguese! They took 3 good goals away from Spain and the ref gave NO reason and FIFA did nothing about it...

Anyhow, on topic YES! Also don't forget Figo was exhausted and walked around the pitch, some guy got sent home for railing a drug test, they blamed the lack of home cooked meals as to why they lost, coach decided to play the starting center back as the right back! They lost to a God awful USA team. DESPITE all this they still should have gone through except they got the cheater Koreans and the idiot ref who allowed knee high studs up challenges to go unpunished, bear hugs and football tackles were okay as well.

KOREA 2002 FOREVER!!!!! THANKS FIFA!

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

@Val.. Haha yupppp all true-agreed.
I forgot all about the whining of the home cooked food!, UNBELIVABLE.

I’m 36, have followed national side since youths in 1991, and started more heavily in 1993. So yup I’ve seen a lot of headaches-heartaches.
...

@Val.. Haha yupppp all true-agreed.
I forgot all about the whining of the home cooked food!, UNBELIVABLE.

I’m 36, have followed national side since youths in 1991, and started more heavily in 1993. So yup I’ve seen a lot of headaches-heartaches.

I agree about the 2000 team ,Humberto Coelho had them playing fantastically.
Think that what also upset me aa well about WC 2002, similar team and they just bombed, absolute shambles.

What I love about Santos is obviously that he coached us finallyyyyyyyy to a major trophy (Skydome cup doesn’t count haha), BUT the players seem disciplined and know there roles.
I hope Portugal gets a quick goal against Iran and Morocco and opens them up quickly so theoretically will make game flow better.. BUT with Quieroz that pig headed stubborn mule they would probably still play 11 defenders

Eh side note: There should be a vote-pole on here: Whom is more pig headed and stubborn Quieroz OR Bento.

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Ahhhh the 2002 World Cup was the worst. I was a senior in high school and my best friend came over my house at like 3am to watch the USA vs Portugal game(I live in New York). So after every goal the USA scored my friend who's American was scared...

Ahhhh the 2002 World Cup was the worst. I was a senior in high school and my best friend came over my house at like 3am to watch the USA vs Portugal game(I live in New York). So after every goal the USA scored my friend who's American was scared to cheer because my older brother and father were flipping out. Both of my parents are from Madeira and I was born here so I wanted Portugal to win but I liked the idea of soccer growing in America too. I'm 34 now and I think I was 18 during that World Cup. Anyways, I get to school and everyone starts talking shit to me about how the USA beat Portugal haha. It was like two losses in one loss. Fast forward to 2014 and doesn't the USA get drawn against Portugal again! Thank god we at least tied them or else I would have put my head through a wall. Another loss to the USA would have crushed me haha.

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Haha- Classic.

I’m in Vancouver BC and I too got absolutely ripped by friends when Portugal lost to the US team.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Was looking at our pathways to the final and assuming the usuals win their groups here’s our opponents on the way. Both are hard but if we get first it’s slightly better.

If we come in First in group
Egypt, Argentina, Germany
If we come in...

Was looking at our pathways to the final and assuming the usuals win their groups here’s our opponents on the way. Both are hard but if we get first it’s slightly better.

If we come in First in group
Egypt, Argentina, Germany
If we come in Second in group
Uruguay, France, Brazil

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I saw FIFA released the World Cup referees.

Anyone know the back story on the omission of Portuguese referees and even assistant referees? I know there was a scandal last year but thought it was limited to players willingly losing games to...

I saw FIFA released the World Cup referees.

Anyone know the back story on the omission of Portuguese referees and even assistant referees? I know there was a scandal last year but thought it was limited to players willingly losing games to win gambling bets.

Read More
There are no comments posted here yet
Load More

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

      

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Diogo played very well. I think it was a solid performance – you could see his potential. He’s a 19-year-old with more than 10 years to play for Manchester United."

José Mourinho
(The Portuguese coach comments on the Manchester United debut of compatriot Diogo Dalot, against Young Boys in the Champions League)

Partners