For the true casual fan....Quick-twitch bits and opinions on the 32 teams, if you accidentally stumble upon soccer while watching TV this month! GROUP B edition. ---->
IRAN: I like a couple of their players, including 21-year old Saeid Ezatolahi and Mahdi Taremi, and I think that's where their offense will be created and capitalized on. Not to get political, but the big story surrounding this non-contender is about what has happened off the field. The US recently re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran after backing out of a nuclear deal between Iran, us and our European allies. That led Nike to pull their supply of cleats(or boots, for the snobs) for the team, just a day in front of the tournament. Nike had also recently cancelled their uniform(kit, for the snobs) deal with them as well. My only point in mentioning this? That situation is more interesting to me than what the squad will actually accomplish at the World Cup. For historical purposes, though....Iran did beat team USA 2-1 in the 1998 World Cup in France. The '98 American squad probably would've been better off NOT qualifying. Hideous performances.
MOROCCO: Might be licking their collective wounds from losing the World Cup 2026 bid to the US/Can/Mex conglomerate. I think their best player is Mehdi Benatia, who is also their captain and defender. They have a young midfield playmaker named Amine Harit, who recently turned heads in Bundesliga for Shalke. Midfielder Hakim Ziyech will probably have the ball on his feet in the attack more than anyone. He's a table-setter. Cool bit on Morocco? In 1986, they were the first African nation to win their group, and first African nation to even make it to the 2nd round (topped Portugal, Poland & England in Group F). They immediately took a 1-0 L in the round of 16 to eventual runner-up Germany.
PORTUGAL: Are you familiar with Cristiano Ronaldo? Cool. He's good (Amazing, in fact. But!! Feel free to hate on him in mixed conversation by reminding his worshipers that he only has 3 total goals in 3 World Cups. It'll annoy them and they'll turn blue while trying to explain it away). The true problem with Portugal has always been Ronaldo's supporting cast and how they work or don't work with him on the field. The squad went on a run to win the Euro 2016 tourney in surprising and dazzling fashion, but the World Cup has proven a bit trickier for the bunch. The team is aging with central defenders Pepe(35) & Bruno Alves(36)...though they can go younger with the 34yr old Fonte. Ronaldo has played next to Nani on the national team for what feels like an eternity. He's 31 now, which would be fine...if he was Ronaldo. He is not. Joao Moutinho is a badass but he's in his thirties as well. I think it comes down to a fellow Joao, Joao Mario, and William Carvahlo. They're also hot on a couple Silvas. 23yr old Bernardo Silva and 22yr old Andre Silva. This team has the right names. But are they the Euro 2016 champions? Or are they the squad that managed a 2-2 draw with Team USA and couldn't get out of the Group stage in 2014? I feel like it's somewhere in the middle. They're the 2nd best team in this group and will compete with Morocco for the 2nd spot.
SPAIN: I am picking Spain to win Group B and advance to the World Cup Final! Lemme break it down.........News came out that Spain's manager Julen Lopetegui was going to be accepting a job bossing Real Madrid after the World Cup. The Spanish federation Prez was so astonished and mad with this revelation, that he fired Lopetegui. That sounds like game over. But NOT for La Roja! In comes Fernando Hierro(who dat?). He's the Sporting Director(GM, for the casuals) for the national team. Former national team player, all around stud...but he was also the Sporting Director for Spain when they went on the most impressive and dominant run in the last 35 years. He helped cultivate a team that won Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012(shortly after he left). An INCREDIBLE stretch of dominance for the Spaniards. In World Cup 2014, however, they fell flat on their faces and it was awful to watch. No attack, no punch, nothing dynamic offensively...they were a bunch of guys that were simply 4 years older. The well had gone dry, and changes needed to be made. They were. Fast forward to today. Some mistakes will not be made again. The infusion of youth and brilliance from 22yr old Real Madrid's Marco Asensio? Let's go. How 'bout his Real teammate who is blossoming into a superstar, 26yr old Isco? The team is absolutely stacked from the longtime mainstays like Sergio Ramos & Pique in the back, David De Gea in net is elite, Diego Costa a "power forward" of sorts at striker adding physicality and aggression to the position...and one of the best distributors in the history of the game, Andres Iniesta, offering up what should be his final major tournament performance. His encore. I am all in on Spain. The Golden Age continues.
**Spain wins the group, I lean Portugal over Morocco for the Runner-Up spot. Ronaldo wants this badly.
TOMORROW: I run through Group C, which includes the team I believe will be facing Spain in the World Cup Final. I'll hammer through Group D as well.