World Cup: World Cup Group B preview: Cristiano Ronaldo has a pretty clear path to advance


Portugal is joined by Spain, Iran and Morocco in Group B of the World Cup in Russia. Here’s a look at each team.


FIFA world ranking: 36

Last World Cup: 2014

Best World Cup finish: Group stage, 2014, 2006, 1998, 1978

How qualified: Won Asian qualifying group

Top players: MF Ehsan Hajsafi, F Sardar Azmoun, MF Ashkan Dejagah

It’s a fact: Iran has played in four World Cups, dating to 1978, with its only win coming against the U.S. in 1998.


The skinny: Iran has adopted a defensive style under Portuguese coach and onetime MLS manager Carlos Queiroz, who has the team in a second straight World Cup. Queiroz has succeeded in Iran by recruiting dual nationals such as Dejagah, who grew up in Germany, and Dutch-Iranian Reza Ghoochannejhad. In qualifying, Iran pitched nine consecutive shutouts and its pressing system will certainly frustrate opponents in Russia. Plus it has just enough creativity on the attack to make things interesting. But Spain and Portugal should be able exploit a midfield that will have trouble playing 90 minutes on the back foot.

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FIFA world ranking: 42

Last World Cup: 1998

Best World Cup finish: Round of 16, 1986

How qualified: Won African qualifying group

Top players: MF Younes Belhanda, D Medhi Benatia, F Khalid Boutaib

It’s a fact: Over 60% of the players Morocco used in qualifying were born somewhere else, the highest percentage of any World Cup team.

The skinny: French coach Herve Renard is faced with question marks on both ends of the field. In goal he has Munir Mohamedi, who plays for a second-tier club in Spain, not exactly World Cup-level competition. And at striker he has the French-born Boutaib, who didn’t make his national team debut until he was 29. But in between Morocco is solid, with a well-organized defense and a deep and creative midfield. Renard, a proven coach, can use a number of formations and his team will both possess and press so don’t expect Morocco to sit back and wait for mistakes.



FIFA world ranking: 4

Last World Cup: 2014

Best World Cup finish: Third place, 1966

How qualified: Won its European qualifying group.

Best players: F Cristiano Ronaldo, MF Bernardo Silva, D Raphael Guerreiro

It’s a fact: No active player has more international goals than Cristiano Ronaldo’s 81, yet Ronaldo never has made it past the semifinals of a World Cup

The skinny: Portugal is experienced but in Portuguese that also translates as old: coach Fernando Santos’ team will start two central defenders older than 34 and at striker they’ll have the 33-year-old Ronaldo. So look for Portugal to play conservatively on defense while hoping the field eventually opens up for Ronaldo at the other end. Portugal can be good, if uncreative, in the midfield where the mission never wavers: Get the ball to the captain. It’s a simple plan but it worked well in Euros and World Cup qualifying.


FIFA world ranking: 8

Last World Cup: 2014

Best World Cup finish: champions, 2010

How qualified: Won European qualifying group

Key players: G David de Gea, D Gerard Pique, MF Andres Iniesta

It’s a fact: Seven of Spain’s likely starters play for either Real Madrid or Barcelona, bitter rivals in Spain’s La Liga.

The skinny: Like Portugal, Spain is either old or experienced, depending on your point of view. Four of its starters — Pique, Iniesta, Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets — also started for Spain’s title-winning team in 2010. Spain still plays the same possession-oriented, short-passing game the 2010 team perfected. Because of that the midfield can dominate games, but Spain appears to lack a strong finisher, and Diego Costa’s poor season with Atletico Madrid did nothing to change that.


June 15: Morocco vs. Iran in St. Petersburg; Portugal vs. Spain in Sochi.

June 20: Portugal vs. Morocco in Moscow; Iran vs. Spain in Kazan.

June 25: Iran vs. Portugal in Saransk; Spain vs. Morocco in Kaliningrad | Twitter: @kbaxter11