Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo gestures during a team training session, in Oeiras, outside Lisbon as they prepare for the World Cup. Photo: Armando Franca/AP
World Cup Group B


As usual, Portugal’s chances of success hinge on the incomparable Cristiano Ronaldo. For Ronaldo, this will, of course, be an important World Cup, in that it is likely to be his last chance to win the coveted trophy. Importantly, though, the Portuguese have savoured the taste of victory, after winning Euro 2016, and they’ll be in buoyant mood. 

More than that, they don’t only have to rely on Ronaldo because Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva is developing into a superb individual talent too. If there’s a weakness in this Portugal team, it could be at the back, where defenders Bruno Alves, Pepe and Jose Fonte are not getting any younger and could struggle for pace.


Having under-achieved at Euro 2016, Spain installed a new coach in Julen Lopetegui and introduced a raft of newer, hungrier players like Isco, Koke and Marco Asensio. The basic style, though, remains the same, with veterans Andres Iniesta and David Silva setting the platform for their famed, metronomic passing game. 

In goalkeeper David de Gea, they have, on form, the best No 1 in the world, while the oft-maligned Sergio Ramos leads the defence with an aggression that many believe is contrary to the rule and spirit of the sport. Ramos is crucial for Spain  and they will again be one of the tournament favourites.


The north Africans are in a really tough group - but, with their solid defence and structured style of play, they are certainly going to give Portugal and Spain a bit of cheek. Coach Herve Renard has vast experience, captain Mehdi Benatia is one of the finest central defenders in Europe and, in Hakim Ziyech, Morocco have a midfielder who is rapidly catching the eye.


Coached by Carlos Queiroz, the man who was once in line for the Bafana Bafana job, Iran are on a hiding to nothing.

Who will go through to the next round? 

Spain and Portugal.


The Star

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