Portugal arrives at this World Cup with sweet sensations. After claiming the Euro crown in 2016 for its first major international title, the side swept its rivals in the qualifiers and will head to the World Cup full of confidence.
Leading the squad is one of the greatest players of all time: Cristiano Ronaldo. An astonishing portfolio of personal achievements that includes winning the Ballon D’Or as the world’s best player five times won’t be complete without a World Cup trophy and there is no doubt he will view this campaign as his ultimate challenge.
Matched against traditional rivals Spain, even topping its group will be difficult but Portugal brings with it an accomplished side boasting the likes of Ricardo Quaresma, Bruno Alves and João Moutinho. Coach Fernando Santos has been the man responsible for guiding Portugal to its most successful era ever and he will know all too well just how important their group opener against Spain will be.
Coach: Fernando Santos
Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo
FIFA Ranking: 4
World Cup appearances: 6
Best World Cup performance: Semi-finals – 1966
While the fundamentals of this team still center on the group of veterans that enjoyed World Cup glory in South Africa in 2010, it is the new additions to the Spanish national squad that have brought a sense of renewal.
The pillars of the team provide a strong base, with names like Iniesta, Busquests, Alba, Pique, Ramos and Silva. However, it is players such as Isco – who performed so exceptionally during the qualifiers – Morata, Carvajal, Asensio and Thiago that are fueling the “La Roja” ranks with extra speed and precision following the retirement from the national team of David Villa, Xavi Hernandez and Fernando Torres.
Spain’s renewal is being successfully driven by new coach Julen Lopetegui, with results under his tenure inviting supporters to be optimistic of returning to the pinnacle again. Lopetegui has a particularly strong track record guiding youthful squads, having previously taken the Spanish Under-19s and Under-21s national sides to success in the UEFA European Championships.
Coach: Julen Lopetegui
Captain: Sergio Ramos
FIFA Ranking: 8
World Cup appearances: 14 World Cup titles: 1 – 2010
Iran was the first team to qualify for the final phase of the World Cup thanks primarily to its rock solid defense. This means that Group B will feature the best defensive team from Africa in Morocco (one goal conceded in eight matches), from Europe in Spain (three goals conceded in 10 matches) and from Asia, with Iran conceding just five goals in 18 games.
Former Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz, who currently directs the team, saw his side’s goal unblemished for 18 hours and 41 minutes – a period of almost two years between opposition goals.
Queiroz was quoted in an interview with FIFA.com as saying that the realistic target of the team now is to progress to the knockout phase, although he considers Iran to be in the most difficult group of the whole program.
Iran has reached the World Cup finals four times, but Russia represents their second appearance in a row, suggesting this side is now coming into its own.
The star of the team is striker Sardar Azmoun, who currently plays in Russia for Rubin Kazan. Azmoun is Iranʼs fifth highest scorer of all-time.
Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Captain: Masoud Shojaei
FIFA Ranking: 36
World Cup appearances: 4
Best World Cup performance: Group stage
Morocco returns to play in the World Cup finals after a 20- year absence. It will be the fifth time the side has reached this point, having overcome traditional African powerhouse the Ivory Coast in qualifying in order to do so.
The coach of Morocca is Herve Renard, who holds the honor of being the first coach to win the CAF Africa Cup of Nations with different countries. He commenced coaching Morocco in 2016 and with him leading the way they wasted no time sealing their long-awaited passport to Russia.
Renard’s challenge now is trying to better the side’s best World Cup performance, having reached the round of 16 in Mexico in 1986.
Perhaps his toughest decision during the World Cup will be who should wear the number one jumper. Goalkeepers Munir Mohmandi and Yassine Bounou are considered two of Morocco’s greatest ever players with both currently playing their club football in Spain.
Coach: Herve Renard
Captain: Medhi Benatia
FIFA Ranking: 42
World Cup appearances: 4
Best World Cup performance: Round of 16 – 1986