Day 2 of the 2018 World Cup will conclude the initial action of Group A with Egypt and Uruguay, followed by the aperitif in Group B in the form of Morocco and Iran. The main course will come last: The heavyweight Iberian derby between Portugal and Spain.
Egypt vs Uruguay
100% or 90% fit, Mohamed Salah will play, and a quick glance over Egypt’s results without the Liverpool star suggests that there’s zero hope for success in this World Cup group. How quickly things change, considering Egypt were favorites alongside Uruguay to finish top of the group before Salah’s injury in the Champions League final.
Egypt has shown absolute dependence on Salah, especially when he wasn’t playing, struggling to find the net without him on the pitch. On the other side will be Uruguay, clear favorites to win the group before Russia’s romp against Saudi Arabia. Great results leading up to the tournament, a desirable blend of youth and experience, and above all the scoring record of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the kind of firepower Hector Cuper’s players will struggle to keep up with.
Prediction: Uruguay, clear winners, probably by more than one goal.
Morocco vs Iran
A terrific opportunity for both sides to gain a foothold in the race for the knockout stage. Who has the upper hand in this one? Probably Morocco. They have the best player on the pitch in Hakim Ziyech, more talent in European clubs and an unbeaten run that goes back 18 matches in all competitions. Iran on the other hand have had trouble finding partners to face in preparation for the tournament, while their Nike predicament has been well documented as well.
But Carlos Queiroz and his team aren’t here just to provide background; instead planning to be involved in the fight for the top 2 spots. Sardar Azmoun has been the side’s best scorer, but the big star is Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the top scorer in the Netherlands this season with AZ, scoring 21 league goals. The 24-year old can play behind the striker or on the wing, and will likely be Iran’s point-man when it comes to troubling Morocco’s stout defense, led by Mehdi Benatia.
Prediction: I see this as a draw or a close win for Morocco. Very close to call.
Portugal vs Spain
Perhaps the biggest match of the group stage. If Spain were considered light to middleweight favorites before the match, the sacking of Julen Lopetegui just before the tournament began reshuffled the deck. Yes, Portugal are still Cristiano Ronaldo + 10, a side that bored everyone to death and hardly won matches on its way to their triumphant Euro 2016, but who knows whether Fernando Hierro can put the pieces together again.
Spain’s players won’t fall apart – probably not. This is an experienced side, although the players who starred under Lopetegui during the generational switch and before in Euro U-21 five years ago could find the new situation a bit bothersome. But Spain do have problems on the defensive end due to injuries, which could provide an opportunity for Portugal to finally do well in a World Cup opener after failing to score in their last two.
Prediction: A closely contested match that ends even. If I have to pick a winner, it’s Spain, narrowly.