Portugal’s first participation in a major tournament finals, at the 1966 FIFA World Cup, saw a team featuring famed striker Eusébio finish in third place. The next two times Portugal qualified for the World Cup finals were in 1986 and 2002; going out in the first round both times. The team reached the semi-finals of 2006 World Cup.
ROAD TO RUSSIA: Portugal came out tops in UEFA Group B that had Andorra, Faroe Islands, Hungary, Latvia, Switzerland. The reigning European champions lost only once during the qualifiers; winning other nine games and scoring 32 goals, while conceding a meagre four.
THEIR CHANCES: Nobody fancied A selecçã winning the Euros, but they did.
Though at 32, the powers of the great Cristiano Ronaldo seem to be on the wane, but as a unit, Portugal are still strong enough to go all the way. Fancy them to qualify from this group.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Cristiano Ronaldo, André, Silva, João Moutinho and Rui Patricio are expected to help bring home the biggest prize in football after their Euros’ exploits.
STAR MAN: Who else than, the captain – Cristiano Ronaldo. The man whose 15 goals helped secure the ticket to Russia. He is the man for the big occasion.
Spain is one of only eight countries ever to have won the FIFA World Cup, which it did at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, in South Africa , the first time the team had reached the final; beating the Netherlands 1-0 in Johannesburg. They were a dominant force in Europe at the time, having won the Euro Championship in 2008. The team is one of the most present at the World Cup finals, with 14 appearances out of the 20 tournaments. Spain reached fourth-place in 1950, and has reached the quarter-finals four times.
ROAD TO RUSSIA 2018: De Rossi’s 82nd minute penalty in Turin spoilt what would have been a 100% run to the tournament for Spain. La Roja won other nine games against Albania, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein and Macedonia, scoring 36 goals and conceding just 3 at the time.
THEIR CHANCES: Managerial change have seemingly brought out the best in this Spanish side. This is evident in their recent games; and even a pessimist would acknowledge that they will be going to Russia as major contenders.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: In Sergio Ramos, David De Gea, Isco, David Silva, Alvaro Morata, Spain have world-class stars that are good enough to deliver the goods for the second time to over 46 million teeming football lovers back home.
KEY MAN: ISCO; The Real Madrid superstar has been in fine form for club and country. With his six goals and an assist in his last seven games for La Roja, he will certainly be a shinning light as Spain try to win their second World Cup.
Morocco have qualified for the final stages of the FIFA World Cup on five occasions; 1970, 1986, 1994, 1998, and 2018. Apart from the 1986 World Cup finals where they were knocked out in the round of 16 by West Germany, Morocco has never gone beyond the group stage of the World Cup finals.
ROAD TO RUSSIA: Morocco won CAF Group C in the third round of the qualifier. Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali where also in the group, but couldn’t stop the Atlas Lions from progressing to the finals.
Morocco didn’t loose a game during their 6-match qualifiers, but their 3 wins ensured that their flag will be hoisted in Russia next summer. And it is worth noting that in those 3 wins, they didn’t concede a goal; winning 3-0, 6-0, and 2-0.
THEIR CHANCES: Obviously the Atlas Lions does not have in their ranks global superstars whose names strike fear on the opposition. However, they work as a unit and are equally a very difficult team to beat.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Khalid Boutaïb, Hakim Ziyech, Mbark Boussoufa, Medhi Benatia, Nabil Dirar.
KEY PLAYER: Medhi Benatia; Juventus defender Benatia is the second most capped player in the present Atlas Lions’ side, with 53 appearances to his name. He scored the all important second goal that sealed Morocco’s qualification; he will be 31 by the time the World Cup kicks off in June but his experience will be invaluable for his team.
IRAN: Iran has qualified for the World Cup five times ( 1978 , 1998 , 2006 , 2014 , and 2018 ) but has never advanced past the group stage. Iran’s only win in the World Cup has been a 2–1 victory against the United States during the 1998 finals in France. The national football team of Iran has been the highest-ranked team in Asia since December 2014 and is the 24th highest-ranked team in the world according to the FIFA World Rankings as of August 2017.
ROAD TO RUSSIA: Iran went through the qualifying phase unbeaten; six wins and four draws were enough to ensure that they came top of Group A that also had China, Qatar, South Korea, Syria, and Uzbekistan.
THEIR CHANCES: They may be one of the whooping teams coming to the finals, but could frustrate some teams with their water-tight defence that kept clean sheets in all but one of their qualifiers.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Team Captain Jalal Hosseini Olympiacos of Greece forward Karim Ansarifard, Mehdi Taremi, and Omid Ebrahimi, will be expected to meet the expectation of a nation who has never gone beyond the group stage in the finals.
KEY PLAYER: MEHDI TAREMI; The back-to-back Iranian footballer of the year and the reigning best player from Asia is the player to watch.