FIFA World Cup Day 1 and Day 2 Predictions Including Portugal vs Spain

Portugal vs Spain
Portuguese initial team during the friendly match of preparation for FIFA 2018 World Cup between Portugal and Algeria at the Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica on June 7, 2018 in Lisboa, Portugal. (Photo by Valter Gouveia / DPI / Nurphoto)

The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia has arrived and for the fans, players, and coaches of 32 nations, opportunity and hope are in endless supply at the start of the tournament. Our panel featuring contributors from the Last Word on Football and Last Word on Soccer offer up their previews and predictions for the first 2 days of World Cup action that features teams in Group A and Group B.

Group A

Russia vs Saudi Arabia (Thursday in Moscow)

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John Bava: The World Cup opener features two teams composed of players who almost exclusively play their club football domestically. Only five ply their trade outside Russia or Saudi Arabia respectively. Expect a cagey and pragmatic affair at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow with the hosts narrowly coming out on top. Russia 1-0 over Saudi Arabia

Steen Kirby: Both of these lower ranked teams struggled in the run-up to the World Cup. All the pressure will be on hosts Russia who skipped qualifying and have the weight of a nation on their shoulders to try to advance from a relatively soft group. Russia has a better midfield and in a matchup of domestic league players, the Russian league is better than the Saudi league. That said I just have a feeling Russia will succumb to the pressure of expectation and the Saudis will sneak through. Saudi Arabia 2-1

Matt Pollard: These are two of the worst teams in the entire tournament and they’re absolutely the two worst teams in this group. This is a defacto knockout game. Igor Akinfeev is a stud, so I don’t see Saudi Arabia getting a goal in this one. Given that Vladimir Putin will be present, I have to think Fyodor Smolov or someone finds a goal. 1-0 Mother Russia

Declan Wiseman: Hosts Russia take on Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the World Cup and they should have the upper hand against their first opponents. They have some excellent technical players in midfield and overall have a more experienced side. However, their substandard Euro 2016 performance will need to be improved upon. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia managed to qualify for their first World Cup in over 10 years, finishing a respectable second in the third round of The Asian Football Confederation’s Preliminary Competition. Even with hard work and belief, Saudi Arabia have a lot of work to do to overcome Russia. Russia 2-0

Egypt vs Uruguay (Friday in Yekaterinburg)

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John: Perhaps the biggest story heading into Friday’s Group A clash between Egypt and Uruguay is the status of Mohamed Salah. The dynamic attacker suffered a shoulder injury while playing for Liverpool in the Champions’ League final and it remains uncertain if he’ll be a go. Even if he’s in the squad, Egypt’s in store for a challenge against an Uruguayan side boasting two players in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani who’ve combined for 93 goals at senior international level. Uruguay 3-1 over Egypt

Steen: Even if Mo Salah was 100% this was always to be the toughest match of the group stages for Egypt. Uruguay plays well on the international stage and the Luis Suarez/Edinson Cavani pairing is likely to shred the Egyptian backline. Egypt needs to avoid losing badly and hurting their goal differential. Uruguay 3-0

Matt: I love this matchup. Mo Salah and company vs. a weaker version of Uruguay and Luis Suarez. This is all about the stars for me. Which superstar does something spectacular to will their team to victory? I think it will come up even in the end. 1-1 draw

Declan: All eyes will be on Mo Salah, who gets to represent his country at the World Cup. His goals and trickery will doubt prove invaluable to Egypt who will need to work hard against a nation of Uruguay’s experience. This game could be exciting, with both teams having capable attackers, Uruguay with Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani. That’s only if Uruguay score first. Egypt tend to have a solid defence, using numbers to sit back before striking on the break. Uruguay 3-2

Group B

Morocco vs Iran (Friday in St. Petersburg)

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John: Neither of these two sides wants this game to end in a draw. Such a scenario would make it difficult for either to advance out of the group if they can somehow shock one of the two heavyweights, Portugal and Spain. Iran is in their second straight World Cup under Carlos Queiroz who’s managed the team since 2011. Meanwhile, Morocco is hoping to put on a good impression in their first appearance in 20 years. One of the players to watch will be Iranian forward Sardar Azmoun who, at the age of 23, already has 23 goals for his national team. Iran 2-1 over Morocco

Steen: Iran qualified due to fantastic defense in their AFC campaign. That said Morocco has more high level European league talent, led by Ajax star Hakim Ziyech. Iran has a few standouts of their own though and I feel their defensively sound play will be enough to manage a result in the opening game. 1-1 Draw

Matt: Similar to Russia-Saudi Arabia these are two bad teams with two very good group opponents. Both need points to stand a chance of advancing to the knockout rounds. Morocco’s got a squad with much better club experience with most of their players playing in Europe and they’re faster. Counterattack for the win. 2-1 Morocco

Declan: Morocco and Iran are two of the lesser ranked teams in the competition, yet this match should still have some goals and action. Morocco have many stars playing throughout Europe and beyond including Mehdi Benatia at Juventus and Hakim Ziyech at Ajax. Iran have last year’s Eredivisie top scorer, winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who is adept with both feet and capable of unlocking defences. They are both teams whose coaches rely on a strong defence with talented attackers deployed on the break. Therefore, it could be a game of counter-attacks, decided by the finest of margins. 1-1 Draw

Portugal vs Spain (Friday in Sochi)

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John: This is one of the games in the group stage fans circled on their calendar as soon as the draw came out. These two Iberian rivals come into this year’s tournament with legitimate trophy aspirations. Spain hopes to become the sixth nation to win it multiple times while Portugal can become the ninth overall if they go all the way. Cristiano Ronaldo is just three goals away from tying Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas for second-most international tallies of all-time. Meanwhile, Spain are hoping Ronaldo’s club teammate Marco Asensio can register his first ever score for La Roja at senior level. Spain 3-2 over Portugal

Steen: The sudden sacking of the Spanish coach will likely cost them this tough opening game against their Iberian neighbors. Talent wise both teams have plenty to offer but Portugal should be the more stable side, while things look troubling for Spain before the first ball is even kicked. Portugal 2-0

Matt: Cristiano Ronaldo vs. all his teammates and enemies from La Liga. Ronaldo doesn’t have the supporting cast he needs for this game and Spain know if they win this match, they’ll surely win the group. Isco and Diego Costa are going to ball out. 3-1 Spain

Declan: This is the first most exciting game of the tournament. Two arch-rival neighbours, Euro 2016 winners Portugal and Spain will compete in this Group B match. Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t getting any younger and will want to seek the ultimate glory of leading his country to win the World Cup. Meanwhile, Spain have just sacked their manager, and this poses a great question mark over their chances. Nevertheless, this should be an enthralling match with brilliant technical players on both teams, who are both willing to play attacking, elegant football. Portugal 3-1

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