Neighbouring European rivals Portugal and Spain will get their World Cup campaigns underway in Sochi on Friday when they clash in Group B.
2018 FIFA World Cup
15 June 2018
Kick-off: 02:00 HKT (16 June)
Venue: Olimpiyskiy Stadion Fisht
Referee: G. Rocchi
Assistants: E. Di Liberatore, M. Tonolini
Fourth official: R. Sato
Fifth official: T. Sgara
Portugal 0-0 Spain (pens 2-4) 27/06/12 (Euro 2012)
Players to watch
Cristiano Ronaldo will no doubt be the key man for Portugal against Spain, and throughout the World Cup. The Real Madrid superstar knows the opposition well, from battling with many of them in La Liga, and he’ll be eager to give his country early momentum in the group. Bernardo Silva, Andre Silva and Gelson Martins are also important players for Fernando Santos’ side.
La Furia Roja have a deep squad and a tremendously talented midfield in particular. Their Iberian neighbours will need to be wary of David Silva, Andres Iniesta, Asensio and Isco, who are all capable of producing a creative spark that could unlock opposition defences.
Team form and manager quotes
Portugal have been fairly inconsistent in recent months and will be hoping their players can find their form quickly against a dangerous Spain.
In their last six games, the Portuguese beat Switzerland, Egypt and Algeria. However, they lost 3-0 to Netherlands and drew with Tunisia and Belgium.
The Euro 2016 champions failed to make it past the group stage at Brazil 2014. They’ll be eager to start with a positive performance to settle some nerves in their opening game in Russia.
Speaking after the 3-0 win over Algeria last week, Santos told the press: “We are still far from ideal, it is with the championship that we will grow.
“There are some things to fine-tune, there are players who are playing for the first time together in this selection.”
Meanwhile, Spain have been in great form leading up to the World Cup, but they will be without head coach Julen Lopetegui, who was unceremoniously sacked on Wednesday after being announced as Real Madrid’s new manager.
Lopetegui was unbeaten in his 20 games at the helm of the national team. In their last 12 games, the Spaniards won 10 and drew only twice, against defending world champions Germany and Belgium.
Fernando Hierro, who is Spain’s sporting director, will step in as head coach for the tournament. He told his first press conference: “We’re here to fight for the World Cup. The team is excited. We’ve got a great opportunity and that has to be the focus.
“My job is the Portugal game, then the next one, and the next… We’ve got fans and a country who are excited [about the World Cup].
“The feedback I’ve had has been really good. The group is really tight, mature; they’re going to have dinner together today. The players are used to coaches coming and going.
“I know they’re going to give it all they’ve got, 100%. In a World Cup nobody gives you anything. We all know what it means.”
The only time these two nations have met at the World Cup was in 2010 in South Africa when Spain ground out a 1-0 victory in the round of 16, thanks to a David Villa winner in the 63rd minute.
Portugal should have a fully-fit squad from which to pick their starting XI. They are expected to start with Guedes and Ronaldo up front, while Pepe and Fonte should combine at centre-back. Bernardo Silva could be key in midfield.
Spain have no fresh injury concerns. They are likely to give Alvaro Odriozola a start ahead of Dani Carvajal due to his impressive performances in the lead-up to the World Cup. Diego Costa should start as the lone striker, with Isco and David Silva creating in midfield.