World Cup Preview: Spain v Russia

Who? Spain - Russia
Where? Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
When? July 1, 16:00 (CET local time)

Spain (Yossi Medina)

The future of Spain national team looked a bit uncertain only a few years ago. With a coach that was appointed only two days before the World Cup, nobody thought that Spain will impress in this tournament. Even though they almost didn't face a real opponent in the group stage, Spain maintained its place as one of the favourites and qualified from the top spot.

Now they will play against Russia, who showed already a great performance but failed against a stronger team like Uruguay. Russia has the support as host nation and Spain knows well what it means to play as an away team in the World Cup. In 2002, they faced South Korea and couldn't handle the combination of good opponent, home crowd and of course some controversies with some of the referee's decisions.

In the game against Morocco, we saw an interesting scorer. Two years ago, Iago Aspas wasn't even considered as part from the national squad. He made his debut in a friendly match in November 2016 and since then made just 12 caps. Yet, his scoring record in the team is amazing, as he scored 6 goals. At the age of 30, Aspas became an important part from the Spanish team.

With so much hopes and dreams, Spain will need to defeat Russia if they want to fulfill them. It wouldn't be easy in Luzhniki, but Spain showed more than once that they can do it everywhere.

Russia (Eden Roitfarb)

On Sunday 17:00 Moscow time, the Russian national team would take the role as David and will face Goliath – also known as La Roja, the Spanish Selección. Speaking of David, the last game Russia played in the knockout stage in a big tournament was the semifinals of Euro 2008 against non-other than Spain – as young midfielder David Silva scored the last goal in an emphatic 3-0 victory. Earlier in that tournament, both teams faced off once more in the group stage and David Villa scored a hattrick on route to a 4-1 win. Ironically, that was still the best side produced by Russian football for a long time, and success has eluded them since.

Back to today, the Russian public feels that advancing to the round of 16 is considered a big achievement as there were almost zero expectations from this squad. 2 from 2 to start the tournament while scoring 8 goals were enough to change the mood of the hosting nation, but Uruguay brought everyone back to earth after easily beating The Golden Eagles 3-0. In this game, Stanislav Cherchesov made a few changes to his starting lineup, but everything went wrong with a Denis Cheryshev own goal and Igor Smolnikov’s dismissal.

Shifting back to optimism, the matchup against Spain will take place in the Luzhniki stadium – where the World Cup opener and 5-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia took place. 3 other games took place in the venue and only 2 goals were scored. Russia would definitely look to close down the Spanish midfield, which consists old fellow David Silva, and keep a closed and close game while trying to surprise on the counter attack. Then, maybe then, Russia can beat Spain in their home court – just like David overtook Goliath in the biblical myth story.

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World Cup Preview: Spain v Morocco

Who? Spain - Morocco
Where? Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
When? June 25, 20:00 (CET local time)

Spain (Yossi Medina)

Spain is living in a dream. Only few days ago, the whole team looked like a full chaos. Without the late coaching change, it was common to think that Spain may be a huge disappointment. In the conclusion of the group stage, Spain is currently in its best situation, as they are on the top of the group and facing Morocco, which already knocked out.

Thanks to Diego Costa, Spain already score the same number of goals as they score in Brazil four years ago. With three goals until now, Costa is in shape to look for more goal and maybe aim Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku in the race for the Golden Boot.

For the captain Sergio Ramos, clinching the round of 16 spot could ensure him a Spanish record. Ramos, who currently made 15 World Cup appearances, can equalize Iker Casillas' 17-caps record as the most capped Spanish players in World Cup.

Spain's match against Nigeria in 1998 is well remembered, but since than Spain won their last two World Cup matches against African teams with wins against South Africa in 2002 and Tunisia in 2006. Playing another match against team from Africa should be an easy task, but Spain would consider this game as their most important match in the World Cup until now.

Morocco (Uri Levy)

Morocco disappointing World Cup will be finished with a match against Spain.  In their last match, the Atlas Lions has outclassed Portugal everywhere on the pitch, except in the box itself. They created chances, but simply couldn't score. Unless Morocco was conceding so fast and early in the game, we might have been discussing the heroic performance by the North Africans. 

Overall, Morocco is a great loss for the World Cup. A talented, varied and quality team, that in 180 minutes did everything right except scoring.  Herve Renard proved his quality as a tactical coach, but he lacked the right planning with his frontline. Morocco wasn't lethal up front, and eventually that is what went against them. Morocco became the first team to be officially eliminated from the World Cup.

Yet, the French coach chose to conclude beautifully the Moroccan experience in the tournament after the last game. “I am proud. I am proud of my players. I am proud of my staff. I am proud in this country. I am proud”. With these words, Morocco will hope to surprise the Spaniards, and leave Russia with a direct impact on the knockout stage. This alone, would be a respectable, though not enough, achievement.

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World Cup Preview: Iran v Spain

Who? Iran - Spain
Where? Kazan Arena, Kazan
When? June 20, 20:00 (CET local time)

Iran (Uri Levy)

Who would have believed that after the first match day in Group B, Iran will be topping the table, watching Spain & Portugal from above. In general, Argentina, Brazil, Germany have also lost points and suddenly Team Melli are feeling confident they can surprise the world and advance to the knockouts.

With all the excitement, the Iranians have to be careful as they travel to Kazan to play Spain, who arrives after a dramatic game where they lost two important points. In this position, Iran has an important advantage, as veteran fox Carlos Quieroz is much more experienced than Hierro, and for sure will try to impose his famous tactics & mind games, as he did to Morocco’s coach Herve Renard in the first game.

In other Team Melli Squad news, defender Rouzbeh Cheshmi got injured in Monday’s practice and unfortunately will miss the rest of the World Cup. The Iranian fans present in masses in Russia, so expect a great atmosphere in the stadium, and a massive support for the team who got its 2nd ever World Cup victory just few days back.

Spain (Yossi Medina)

Even though the game ended with a draw, Spain can be satisfied with the result they achieved against Portugal. The coaching controversy is part of the past and Hierro's debut gave a lot of optimism before the next match.

Diego Costa's brace against Portugal gave him a chance to be a contender for this tournaments top scorer. In some way, it's the chance of Costa to show what he failed to do four years ago, when Spain failed to impress and eliminated after the group stage.

One player will mark an important milestone. If Gerard Piqué will play, he will make his 100 international cap, being the 13th Spanish player to reach this number of caps. Piqué is maybe one of the most controversial players in the Spanish team. He is well recognized as a Catalonian independence supporter. Yet, he is still part of the Spanish team and wants to be part of any further success, as he did in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

As Spain is aiming for their second World Cup title, they must finish in the first place in order to have better draw for the next stages. Winning tonight is a must for La Roja, especially after failing to defeat Portugal and the fact that they missed an option to get an advantage over the European champions.

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World Cup Nostalgics: Best 5 Repeats at the Group Stage

The World Cup always brings us the feelings of great memories. Many games during the group stage will remind an old-fashioned World Cup clashes with the same teams. Here are some of these best repeats.

Sweden - Germany
1958 Semifinals 3:1 / 2018 Group F

In 1958, Germany was the reigning World Champions and they were two wins away from winning the title once again. 1:0 lead by Germany didn't made any change for the hosts feeling. Sweden managed to equalize during the first half and scored twice in the last with goals of Gunnar Gren and Kurt Hamrin. Sweden made history and qualified for their only final in the history. Can Sweden upset Germany once again?

Morocco - Portugal
1986 Group Stage 3:1 / 2018 Group B

In hot summer day at Guadalajara, Morocco and Portugal met while they knew that the winner will qualify for the next stage. Portugal were the favourites, but they didn't believe that Morocco will be in one of its best matches ever. Abderrazak Khairi scored a brace in the first half and Abdelkrim Merry added one more. The Atlas Lions won and Portugal found themselves being eliminated too early.
Portugal are once again on the lead, but will it be enough to defeat Morocco?

Brazil - Costa Rica
1990 Group Stage 1:0 / 2018 Group E

Costa Rica World Cup debut was a memorable campaign with wins against Scotland and Sweden and reaching the knockout stage. Nevertherless, one of its well known performances was actually at the defeat 0:1 against Brazil. In this match Costa Rica played with an unusual black and white shirts. The local crowd in the mythical Delle Alpi in Turin thought it a gesture for the local team, Juevetus, and it was enough to make Costa Rica as one of the most beloved team in the tournament.
May Costa Rica have another performance that will be enough to get support?

Argentina - Nigera
1994 Group Stage 2:1 / 2018 Group D

Argentina and Nigeria will meet for the fifth time in World Cup group stage, but none of the previous matches was as amazing as the first meeting in 1994. An early lead with a goal scored by Samson Siasia made the Argentinian a bit shockes. Only Claudio Caniggia could save the day for the Albiceleste and he scored twich before the half time whistle. These goals gave Argentina the win, but later both of the teams qualified for the knockout stage.
In 1994 they qualified together and it happened once again in 2014. What will be in 2018?

Spain - Portugal
2010 Round of 16 1:0 / 2018 Group B

Another Portuguese lost, this time against the eventual World Cup winners in that year, Spain. The only goal scored by David Villa was enough for a win in the Iberian Peninsula derby and to qualify for the quarterfinals. The interesting name in the list is Portugal manager in this match, Carlos Queiroz. In 2018, he will make a double repeat while he will meet Spain and Portugal as the head coach of Iran.
With tons of emotion, what will be the end of the Queiroz-Portugal-Spain trio in the next World Cup?

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