After thursday’s goal fest in a one-sided game between Russia and Saudi Arabia, Spain vs Portugal today is a matchup sure to keep excitement levels high. It is the last of three matches, a fitting finale to a day which promises drama.
Russia and Saudi Arabia’s tie are certainly business related; both are leaders in the global oil and gas market. For Spain-Portugal, the relationship is more intimate; they are neighbours on the Iberian Peninsula, almost detached from the rest of Europe.
Football wise, they share similar history; they were tagged underachievers and also-rans until recent years when Spain won three international titles on the trot (Euros in 2008 & 2012, World Cup 2010), while Portugal are current European champions, their first ever win.
Expect a fierce contest between two star-studded teams that will go down as a classic in the history books. Portugal will be looking to take advantage of the seeming disarray in the Spanish ranks; Spain sacked previous manager JulenLopetegui barely two days ago. Real Madrid legend, Fernando Hierro is now charged with galvanizing this absurdly talented side.
Of their four meetings in major tournaments, Spain lead by two wins to one (if you include a victory on penalties), with only four goals scored in those matches.
The only World Cup meeting was in 2010, when Spain triumphed 1-0 in the last 16 and went on to win. Six members of that squad are in Russia; David Silva, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Pepe Reina, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique.
Portugal will now attempt to emulate Spain and become only the fourth nation to win back-to-back European Championship and World Cup tournaments. The others are West Germany (Euro 1972, World Cup 1974), France (World Cup 1998, Euro 2000) and Spain (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010).
Much may rest on the performance of Cristiano Ronaldo who finished the season with 43 goals for Real this season. He and his teammates surely smell blood.
Portugal have reported no injury concerns ahead of their clash with Spain but question marks remain over their starting line-up. Jose Fonte and Bruno Alves are vying to partner Pepe at centre-back, while either Andre Silva or Goncalo Guedes will join Cristiano Ronaldo in attack.
Daniel Carvajal returned to training for Spain on Tuesday following a hamstring injury but remains a doubt. Alvaro Odriozola will deputise at right-back should Carvajal miss out.