Paul Higham previews Friday's World Cup fixtures including the huge Group B clash between Portugal and Spain.
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- Egypt 0-2 Uruguay
- Morocco 2-1 Iran
- Portugal 1-1 Spain
It’s the first full day of World Cup action in Russia and what a day it promises to be as tournament dark horses Uruguay kick-off their campaign in Group A, while Spain and Portugal clash in Group B.
Spain's clash with Portugal was already pegged as an early highlight of the World Cup, but the late sacking of their coach Julen Lopetegui has added an even bigger slice of intrigue to the fixture.
Before the Iberian rivals clash, Morocco and Iran face off and one of these two could steal an early march on the big guns for the group.
Egypt vs Uruguay (Group A) - Ekaterinburg - 1300 BST (BBC)
As if a dream group for Uruguay wasn't easy enough before Mohamed Salah's shoulder injury means he's a huge doubt to play in Egypt's World Cup opener as they return to the tournament after a 28-year absence.
Salah's shoulder may allow him to play some part, but he'll most likely be on the bench as Egypt's possible progress in this group lies in games against the other two teams.
Uruguay at 4/5 to win the group is still worth taking as I'd expect them to win their three group games with plenty to spare. It's their third straight World Cup, showing that the team has developed into consistent performers on the world stage.
With the likes of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani up front Uruguay will have just too much firepower for the Egyptians to handle, Salah or no Salah. They have kept clean sheets in their last three warm-up games and can keep that momentum going with another victory without reply.
Prediction: Egypt 0-2 Uruguay (Sky Bet odds: 5/1)
Best Bet: Uruguay to win to nil at 11/10
- Uruguay beat Egypt in their only previous encounter, defeating them 2-0 in Alexandria in August 2006. o Uruguay are unbeaten against African opposition at the World Cup (W1 D2).
- Egypt are so far winless at the World Cup, drawing two and losing two of their four games. In fact, no African team has played as many games in the competition without winning a single one.
- Uruguay have lost only one of their last eight World Cup group games (W4 D3), against Costa Rica in 2014 (1-3). However, they are winless in their last six opening games (D3 L3), their last victory coming in 1970 (2-0 v Israel).
- Mohamed Salah scored more goals than any other player in 2018 African World Cup qualifying (Third Round), netting five of Egypt’s eight goals overall.
- Edinson Cavani was the top scorer in the CONMEBOL qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup, netting 10 goals for Uruguay.
- Luis Suárez has been directly involved in seven of Uruguay’s last 13 goals at the World Cup (5 goals, 2 assists).
Morocco vs Iran (Group B) - St Petersburg - 1600 BST (ITV)
Not the most attractive game on paper, but this is a golden chance for one of these two to get a foothold in the group with a victory - especially if there's a result in Spain v Portugal.
Vastly experienced Iran coach Carlos Queiroz is in his third World Cup and is well clued up on both Spain and his native Portugal.
Both of these sides defend extremely well with clean sheets aplenty during qualifying, but a draw is no good to either of them considering the tests that lay ahead in the final two games.
Goals may not be raining down, but you'd like to think they'll both be going for broke to try and get the most valuable of three points.
Prediction: Morocco 2-1 Iran (Sky Bet odds: 10/1)
Best Bet: Morocco to beat Iran at 5/4
- Morocco have qualified for their fifth World Cup, their first since 1998. They have never progressed further than the round of 16 (1986), being eliminated in the group stages three times in their four previous appearances.
- Morocco have won only two of their 13 games at the World Cup (D4 L7), including five defeats in their last seven games (W1 D1). They’ve also never won an opening game in the competition (D2 L2).
- Morocco were the only team not to concede a single goal in the third round of CAF qualifiers for Russia 2018 (6 games).
- Iran have qualified for the World Cup in back-to-back tournaments for the first time ever. However, they have never reached the knockout stages, winning only one of their 12 games (D3 L8) - against USA on 21 June 1998 (2-1).
- Iran have also only kept one clean sheet in their 12 World Cup games (0-0 v Nigeria, June 2014), scoring more than one goal only once, in their sole win against USA in 1998.
- Iran were unbeaten in their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup, winning 12 games and drawing the other six (AFC Second Round + Third Round). They also kept 14 clean sheets in those 18 games.
Portugal vs Spain (Group B) - Sochi - 1900 BST (BBC)
This is the big one, which got even bigger after Spain sacked Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament in reaction to him taking the Real Madrid job without their knowledge.
Fernando Hierro has replaced him but if there's one team in this tournament that can cope without a coach it's the experienced and intelligent Spanish side.
Facing Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal would not be their ideal first game though under the circumstances as the European champions are right up there with the toughest teams to play in world football.
Ronaldo has, however, never scored against Spain and this one might be another cagey affair with both defences being among the best in World Cup qualifying.
Spain haven't drawn a World Cup finals game in their last 14 outings but, with easier games to come this has all the makings of a rare stalemate.
Prediction: Portugal 1-1 Spain (Sky Bet odds: 5/1)
Best Bet: Portugal v Spain draw at 11/5
- Portugal and Spain’s only previous World Cup encounter was in 2010. Spain won 1-0 in the round of 16 thanks to a David Villa goal.
- Portugal will attempt to become the fourth nation to win back-to-back European Championship and World Cup tournaments after West Germany (Euro 1972, World Cup 1974), France (World Cup 1998, Euro 2000) and Spain (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012).
- Portugal have lost only one of their last nine World Cup group games (0-4 v Germany in 2014), winning five and drawing the other three.
- Only England and Spain (3) conceded fewer goals than Portugal (4) in the UEFA qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup.
- Spain have finished top of their group in three of their last four World Cups. However, they have won only two of their last 12 opening games in the tournament (D3 L7).
- None of Spain’s last 14 games at the World Cup have ended in a draw (W10 L4). They’ve lost three of their last six group games (W3), after winning each of their previous seven.
Posted at 1930 BST on 13/06/18
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