As soon as the FIFA World Cup schedule was released, there was one particular fixture which caught the eye of supporters of the game across the globe. This fixture pits two mighty European nations, one the current European champion and the other trying to reclaim the form and climb back to the very top of the ladder, which saw them win two European championships and one World Cup title in the span of four years. More so, Spain will be pitted against Portugal on the second day of the tournament, to kick off the tournament with a blast.
- On paper, Spain have a better squad than Portugal with a majority of the spine of the team consisting of players from the two powerhouses of Spanish football, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
- Beginning with the goalkeeper, Spain have one of the best in the world in the form of David de gea, while Portugal will be trusting the gloves of Sporting CP man Rui Patricio. Spain certainly have the edge in this position.
- In defense, Spain will be relying on Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique’s leadership at the back, with Jordi Alba and Cesar Azpilicueta completing a solid back-line for the La Roja. On the other hand, Portugal will be relying on the ageing pair of Pepe and Jose Fonte, who are 35 and 34 years old respectively.
- Midfield is arguably the only department where Portugal can match up with Spain. It’ll be interesting to see whether William Carvalho, Joao Mario and Bernardo Silva come out on top against Thiago, Koke and Andres Iniesta.
- In attack, Spain have a flurry of options with David Silva, Rodrigo, Diego Costa and the golden boy Isco, amongst others. There is no need to look any further than Cristiano Ronaldo to be the main man to carry Portugal’s attack.
- This year, Spain have played four matches out of which they have won two and drawn the other two. Their highlight has been the 6-1 thrashing of Argentina in March, while they scraped a 1-0 victory over Tunisia recently.
- Portugal have been average in the friendlies they have played this year as they have lost one, drawn two and won two matches. One of the victories over Egypt required an injury-time brace from Ronaldo, though their recent 3-0 victory over Algeria will boost the confidence of the squad.
- Julen Lopetegui had previously led the Spanish under-19 and under-21 sides to European glory in 2012 and 2013 respectively. He will succeed Zinedine Zidane as the Real Madrid manager after the World Cup. However, on 13th June, it was announced that Lopetegui has been sacked and he will be replaced by sporting director Fernando Hierro for the tournament.
- Fernando Santos has been the Portugal coach since 2014. The former Greece manager is known for his pragmatic approach to the game and the functional football his teams play. It was this very approach that bore fruit as he led Portugal to their first ever title in Euro 2016. He will be expected to follow up this achievement and guide the team through to at least the latter stages of the tournament.