After a number of shocks in the opening round of group games, Paul Higham expects the big boys to hit back on Wednesday with Spain and Portugal returning to World Cup action.
Recommended World Cup bets: Wednesday
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- Portugal 2-1 Morocco
- Uruguay 3-0 Saudi Arabia
- Iran 0-3 Spain
Portugal v Morocco (Group B, 1300 BST, BBC)
As if it wasn’t bad enough losing your World Cup opener, which you dominated, to an own goal against Iran, then you have to face a flying Cristiano Ronaldo in the next game – life is not playing fair for Morocco in Russia!
There was a lot to like about the Atlas Lions against Iran but they could not turn their dominance into goals. Interestingly they enjoyed almost exactly the same amount of possession as Spain did against Portugal in their thrilling 3-3 draw.
Odds are on a role reversal this time around but that might actually be a better fit for Morocco with their pace and skill probably more suited to playing on the break than cutting open a stubborn rearguard.
Stopping Ronaldo will be the key – he’s 8/11 to score in 90 minutes after his hat-trick against Spain saw him double his tally in World Cup finals to four. Morocco do not concede too many goals, although they don’t face too many Ronaldos either so you’d expect the great man to be able to find the net again.
It’s key to remember though that even after all Ronaldo’s heroics, Portugal still only have a point to their name in Group B and they will not be coming out and playing with reckless abandon. Expect them to be careful not to expose ageing centre backs Pepe and Jose Fonte to Morocco’s pacey attack.
A win gives Portugal one foot in the knockout stages and they will play how they usually play, keeping things tight and trying to supply Ronaldo – 11/10 on him to score in a Portugal win must be top of the betting list.
Prediction: Portugal 2-1 Morocco (Sky Bet odds: 8/1)
- Cristiano Ronaldo had scored three goals from 70 shots in his previous three World Cup tournaments combined for Portugal (2006, 2010 and 2014) – at the 2018 World Cup, he has scored three goals from just four shots.
- Morocco did not face a single shot in the second half of their opening match against Iran.
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick for Portugal against Spain made him the oldest hat-trick scorer in the history of the World Cup (33y 130d).
- Morocco had 68% possession in their 1-0 defeat to Iran, the most by a losing team in a World Cup match since June 2010, when Spain had 73% possession against Switzerland but lost 1-0.
- Current Portugal manager Fernando Santos has only won one World Cup match (P5 W1 D3 L1), but it did come in his only previous game against African opponents, with his Greece side winning 2-1 against Ivory Coast in June 2014.
- Portugal have not lost against a non-European nation at the World Cup since June 2002, when they lost 1-0 to South Korea (W5 D3 since).
Uruguay v Saudi Arabia (Group A, 1600 BST, BBC)
The perfect follow-up to an underwhelming win over Egypt comes in the form of an awful Saudi Arabia side as Uruguay look to show they are worthy of showing up on many people’s lists of World Cup dark horses.
If Egypt offered a stubborn, well-drilled resistance in their opener, the Saudis offered anything but in their hapless capitulation giving hosts Russia a comfortable 5-0 win. Luis Suarez was awful against Egypt, Edinson Cavani a bit better but both will want to open their goalscoring account at the second attempt.
Watching the game back would have been painful viewing for the Saudis and surely they will be tightening things up but it’s hard to see how they could hurt this Uruguay side unless something stupid happens.
We have seen a few shocks in the competition so far but I am not expecting one here and it should be a routine win once Uruguay get the breakthrough. Finding any sort of value is tough, Uruguay winning to nil is only 4/7 as is your pick of Cavani or Suarez to score in a Uruguay win.
Preference is for a handicap bet and while I could see them matching Russia’s five-goal haul the Saudis may just improve enough to keep it a bit more respectable.
Prediction: Uruguay 3-0 Saudi Arabia (Sky Bet odds: 5/1)
- Saudi Arabia have finished bottom of their group in their last three World Cup appearances, their best performance dating back to their opening tournament in 1994 (knocked out by Sweden in the round of 16).
- Uruguay are looking to win their first two matches of a World Cup tournament for the first time since 1954.
- Saudi Arabia have failed to score in eight of their last 10 World Cup games. They didn’t have a single shot on target in their opener against Russia.
- Saudi Arabia have conceded 14 headed goals at the World Cup since their debut in 1994, more than any other team over that period.
- Uruguay have lost just one of their last nine World Cup group games (W5 D3), winning five of their last six.
- José Giménez's (89:01) strike versus Egypt was the latest winning goal by Uruguay in a World Cup game since Daniel Fonseca versus South Korea in 1990 (91:01).
Iran v Spain (Group B, 1900 BST, ITV)
The footballing gods did not grant Spain an easy entry into this World Cup. They lost their coach just before the tournament and in the first game conceded an early penalty, a late wonder free-kick and in between the rarest of howlers from the best keeper in the world in David De Gea.
It is easy to forget but in between getting taught a lesson by Ronaldo, Spain basically played Portugal off the park and scored a couple of great goals themselves – under the circumstances it was a pretty decent outing and nothing to get worried about.
Iran may well be the group leaders but they were outplayed by Morocco for huge periods and did not muster a shot on target in the second half when they claimed three points with a late, late own goal – in contrast to Spain they were positively overflowing with good luck.
Not that Iran are an awful team, they defended decently but even if they give up just the same 68% possession they did to Morocco then the 2010 World Cup winners will surely take advantage.
Spain have had time to work with Fernando Hierro now but anything anywhere near the performance against Portugal should yield a handsome winner against Iran - and that is exactly what's expected.
Prediction: Iran 0-3 Spain (Sky bet odds: 5/1)
- Spain have been eliminated at the group stage in two of the last three World Cup tournaments in which they’ve failed to win their first match (1998 and 2014) – however, they won the tournament on the other occasion, doing so in 2010 despite losing their first match to Switzerland.
- Spain have conceded 10 goals in their last four World Cup matches – as many as in their previous 15 World Cup matches combined.
- In their 1-0 victory over Morocco, Iran became the first team since 1966 to score a goal without attempting a shot in a half of World Cup football - their winning goal came courtesy of a 90th minute own-goal by Morocco’s Aziz Bouhaddouz.
- Iran’s last three World Cup goals have all come in the final 15 minutes of matches – they have never scored before the 36th minute in a World Cup match.
- Diego Costa has scored eight goals in his last eight international starts for Spain – he scored with both of his shots on target in their 3-3 draw with Portugal.
- Iran could become the first Asian nation to win consecutive World Cup matches since South Korea in June 2002.
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