Soccer

Spain, Portugal loaded with stars, but a Group B underdog could play role of spoiler

Spanish midfielder maestro Andres Iniesta, 34, wants to end his international career with a deep World Cup run. Spain faces Portugal, Morocco and Iran in Group B at the 2018 World Cup.
Spanish midfielder maestro Andres Iniesta, 34, wants to end his international career with a deep World Cup run. Spain faces Portugal, Morocco and Iran in Group B at the 2018 World Cup. AP

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Miami Herald soccer writer Michelle Kaufman breaks down each group in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and selects her top two teams that will advance out of the group stage.

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The 2018 World Cup opens in less than a month, on June 14 in Moscow. Here's a look at what to expect from Group B.

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In this photo taken on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, Iran's team players, back row from left, Alireza Beiranvand, Ramin Rezaeian, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Mohammad Ansari, Morteza Pouraliganji, Saeid Ezatolahi and front row from left, Ehsan Hajsafi, Vahid Amiri, Reza Ghoochannejhad, Milad Mohammadi, Ashkan Dejagah pose for the team photo before the 2018 Russia World Cup Group A qualifying soccer match against South Korea at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Iran: With just one win in its past 12 World Cup matches, Iran is seeking a better showing this time around. Coach Carlos Queiroz is quite familiar with Spain and Portugal, having coached Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team. Winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh is the top scorer in the Dutch league.

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Juventus' Medhi Benatia scores his side's third goal past AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma during the Italian Cup final soccer match between Juventus and AC Milan, at the Rome Olympic stadium, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Morocco: The Atlas Lions went 6-0 in qualifying, didn’t concede a single goal and could pull off an upset. The Moroccan defense is the team’s strength, with Medhi Benatia and Karim El Ahmadi as the anchors. Hakim Ziyech and 31-year-old Khalid Boutaib lead the attack. The opening match June 15 against Iran will be critical, as both group underdogs will be clawing to get three points early.

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Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo keeps his eyes on the ball during the Confederations Cup, semifinal soccer match between Portugal and Chile, at the Kazan Arena, Russia, Wednesday, June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Portugal: The reigning European champions, led by Real Madrid superstar Ronaldo, cruised through World Cup qualifying, winning nine of 10 games and averaging more than three goals per game. Ronaldo is getting older, but still has a nose for the goal and is one of the best finishers in the game.

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Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos leaves at the end of a news conference at the team's Valdebebas training ground in Madrid, Monday, April 30, 2018. Real Madrid will play a Champions League semi final second leg soccer match with Bayern Munich on Tuesday, May 1. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Spain: This could be the farewell tour for a core of veterans who have been dazzling the world with their possession style for the past decade. Soon-to-be-retired midfield maestro Andres Iniesta, 34, wants to go out on a high note. Captain Sergio Ramos, Pique, Sergio Busquets, and David Silva are all back. Manager Julen Lopetegui will have to mix the old with the young, including Isco, Koke, Marco Asencio, and Alvaro Morata.

Prediction: Spain wins the group, Portugal advances as the second-place team.

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