BREAK DOWN OF GROUP B IN WORLD CUP SOCCER

Group B is a star-studded affair, with Iberian cousins Spain and Portugal taking on neighbours Morocco and the spirited Iran.

While 2014 World Cup champions Spain and 2016 European Cup winners Portugal will be expected to progress past the group stage, Morocco are also in with a fighting chance after performing so well during African qualifying.

Portugal

All eyes will be on Portugal come June 2018, with star player Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup starting to run out. While the 32-year-old still has a few good years left in him, at 36 for the next World Cup, even he would agree that it's now or never. A win for Portugal is certainly not out of the question, with the European giants having shocked France in 2016 to take out the European Championship. Their battle against Spain is the third game of the tournament and the first big heavyweight clash.

While the man himself would probably disagree, the success of Portugal is not all down to Ronaldo. Pepe is still a force to be reckoned with in defence, Joao Moutinho adds technique and passing skills in the midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help out Ronaldo up front. In fact, it's important to remember that Portugal won Euro 2016 after Ronaldo went off injured early in the first half. Coach Fernando Santos seems to have done everything right since he took over the ship in 2014, with Portugal’s players working together better than ever before.

Spain

2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro winners Spain have had a tough few years, with the footballing giants failing to defend their world title in 2014 and their European crown in 2016. Things seem to be back on track, however, with the managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui seeming to give them a new slice of life. However, while Spain are always good at keeping possession and controlling games, they lack power up front and fail to create real goal-scoring opportunities.

Like always, the Spanish side is full to the brim of talented midfielders. From the ageing but still exquisite Andres Iniesta through to David Silva, Busquets, and Isco, it's hard to believe that Spain ever fail to complete a pass. Spain also look pretty solid at the back, with Ramos and Pique likely to be joined by Jordi Alba and Carvajal to keep the ultimate Real Madrid-Barcelona balance. The situation is not so clear up front, however, with Spain often struggling to hit the back of the net. With Alvaro Morata surprising many by missing out on selection, Diego Costa may be given the responsibility.

Morocco

Morocco were one of the most impressive teams during African qualifying, with the North Africans not conceding a single goal. While they will have a lot of work to do muscling past Spain or Portugal to make it out of the group stage, in football, nothing is impossible. It's taken Morocco 20 years to get back to the World Cup, and they'll be doing everything they can to make the most of it.   

The talented midfielder Nabil Dirar from Fenerbahce will play a key role, as will Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Perhaps the biggest influence on the Moroccan side will be Herve Renard, however, with the successful French coach having already won the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the same competition with Ivory Coast three years later. If Morocco manage to use their flair and speed to their advantage, they may be able to surprise the more possession minded teams of Spain and Portugal.

Iran

Iran enjoyed a solid qualifying campaign, with this young and spirited team going unbeaten in 18 matches across two rounds. Making the Round of 16 will be a much tougher endeavour, however, especially when you consider their opposition. Coach Carlos Queiroz has his eyes firmly on the knockout stages, having already said that Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." This man might already be familiar to you, having worked alongside Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United as his number two.

While the betting markets would probably disagree with this optimistic view, much like Morocco, Iran could have some surprises up its sleeve. 22-year old forward Sardar Azmoun from Rubin Kazan is definitely someone to watch, with this exciting player having already scored 22 international goals and recently emerging as a major tournament threat during the 2015 Asian Cup.

Mehdi Taremi is another name to watch, with this Al-Gharafa player being the winner of the Iranian Footballer of the Year Award for the last two years. Iran have never made it past the group stages of the World Cup, and with Spain and Portugal in their group, this probably won't change in 2018.

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