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FIFA World Cup 2018™: ‘Group B’ Tactical Preview

October 9, 2019


Iran Iran qualified from the AFC third round unbeaten,
topping a tough group including South Korea and Syria. Sardar Azmoun, the Rubin Kazan
striker, scored 11 goals in AFC qualifying. This will be Iran’s fifth World Cup appearance,
following their debut in 1978, and their first back to back. Former Real Madrid and Portugal manager Carlos
Queiroz saw his side only score one goal at the 2014 World Cup, netted by Reza Ghoochannejhad
against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but this version of the team does have more attacking potential,
even with Azmoun out of favour at Rubin. Queiroz has created an organised, defensively
effective team that play a 4-3-3 with a midfielder who sits deep in front of the back four; the
team takes up a 4-1-4-1 pose in the midblock and try to win the ball aggressively. The
wider central midfielders tend to stay quite narrow to congest the midfield area, while
the full backs push up. Iran prefer to go long, with vertical passes into the corners
for the wingers. Iran have one outstanding player, Alireza
Jahanbakhsh, a two-footed winger who plays across the front line. Iran will look to release
him one on one with the opposition full back before he crosses towards Azmoun or Mehdi
Taremi. If Iran attack on the right, the left-hand central midfielder will push up to create
a 4-2-4 shape that’s slightly lop-sided. Jahanbakhsh is the one to watch, while the
relatively inexperienced but talented centre back or defensive midfielder Rouzbeh Cheshmi
can impress if given a chance. Iran’s World Cup is likely to be short-lived though, and
they’ll struggle to emerge from a seriously tough group. Morocco Morocco will be appearing at their fifth tournament,
and their first since 1998, when they went out in the group stage despite only losing
to Brazil. To get to Russia 2018, Morocco topped a very difficult group without conceding,
seeing off the Ivory Coast and Gabon. Khalid Boutail netted four in the group stage, including
a hat-trick at home to Gabon. The Lions of the Atlas are managed by Herve
Renard, who is the only manager to win the Africa Cup of Nations with two different nations
(Zambia and the Ivory Coast). The side are captained by Juventus centre back Medhi Benatia
and play a 4-3-3, with one of the central midfielders pushing up to support attacks
from the hole. Feyenoord’s Karim El Ahmadi is a good defensive midfielder, while Al-Jazira’s
Mbark Boussoufa pulls the strings with long passing. Romain Saiss, who plays as a defensive midfielder
for Wolves, has been used at centre back, showing Renard’s desire to pass long and
accurately from the back. Out wide, Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech is the key creative player, while
Nordin Amrabat has quality and Younes Belhanda can play wide or push up from midfield. Morocco
will defend well, then look to break at pace. While Ziyech and Benatia are the stand-out
players in a cosmopolitan squad, watch out for Amine Harit. The Schalke midfielder represented
France at youth level and is a tricky, creative attacking midfielder who could make a real
impression this summer. Morocco will look to secure their third ever
World Cup win against Iran and could spring a surprise, despite being in a group with
Portugal and Spain. Portugal Portugal breezed through UEFA qualification,
losing only their first away game against Switzerland. Cristiano Ronaldo scored two
hat-tricks on his way to 15 goals, while A.C. Milan’s Andre Silva bagged nine. Under Fernando Santos, the European Champions
have become granite-like, only losing once in 29 competitive games. Rui Patricio is a
very capable ‘keeper who excels at penalties, while the two first choice centre backs, Jose
Fonte and Pepe, while 34 and 35 respectively, are very experienced. Portugal play a lop-sided 4-4-2. The left
midfielder, either Joao Mario or Manuel Fernandes, tucks in and is a frequent out ball for the
centre backs in possession. The right midfielder, Bernardo Silva or Ricardo Quaresma, pushes
up more, while the full backs look to get high and overlap on the left, or support on
the right. Ronaldo drops deep to collect the ball, while
simultaneously trying to be the front man. This may be why, while Portugal sometimes
play an attacking midfielder off Ronaldo in the ten role, such as Sporting’s Bruno Fernandes,
they will likely use Andre Silva to play up alongside Ronaldo and act as a focal point. Portugal will press aggressively and attack
from wide, with the aim being crosses to Silva or any kind of ball to Ronaldo. While Portugal
could be seen as a one man team, Bernardo Silva possesses huge talent, while new Leicester
right back Ricardo Pereira can impress if picked ahead of Cedric. The European Champions should progress from
this group, but they could be on the end of an upset if Ronaldo has an off day and the
centre backs show their age. Spain Julen Lopetegui steered his Spain side through
qualifying without a hitch, which is hardly a surprise given that Spain have qualified
for every major tournament since Euro ’96 without defeat. Spain had four players score
five in qualification, including Alvaro Morata who did not make the cut. Many of the Golden
Generation who won back-to-back European Championships, and the World Cup in 2010, are still present:
Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, and Sergio Busquets started in 2010 and will
likely start in Russia. Spain’s possession-based 4-3-3, with a screening
midfielder, two advanced playmakers in eight to ten roles either side, and creative attacking
wide players who will tuck in and drop off is familiar, and the issue with Spain is less
understanding what they do, and more trying to stop it. Spain do have some selection issues though:
should Iniesta start ahead of Koke or Isco, or will Isco play in one of the forward flanking
roles, meaning that Spain will not play with any natural wingers? Width will largely come
from full back, though, with Jordi Alaba especially keen to get forwards. Diego Costa is an abrasive
presence up front, while Iago Aspas offers more guile as a sort of false nine. Spain are strong throughout: de Gea is perhaps
the world’s best goalkeeper on current form, while defenders as good as Cesar Azpilicueta
are unlikely to start. The squad is full of trickery and invention, as shown in the friendly
6-1 drubbing of Argentina. Should Spain struggle, it will be because they cannot break down
sides who sit very deep and allow them possession. But passage from the groups should be assured,
and Spain are certainly among the best three UEFA teams in Russia, and the best five overall.

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