One of the biggest matches of the group stage at the 2018 World Cup is being overshadowed by a massive coaching shakeup. It’s still unclear how big of an impact the loss of will have on the team, but Spain is still a narrow favorite against fellow European contenders Portugal.
Portugal vs. Spain Squads
Julen Lopetegui had his 20-match unbeaten streak snapped by management on Wednedsay, as Lopetegui was sacked for signing a deal with Real Madrid before consulting Spanish officials. It’s a firm decision by Spain, both because of the timing as well as the quality Lopetegui has displayed with this team.
Spain hired Lopetegui after former manager Vicente del Bosque retired. Spain were disappointing at Euro 2016, leaving in the Round of 16 in a 0-2 loss to Italy. That match reflected the current problems with Spain- despite their brilliant passing talent, they lack the firepower to pour on the goals.
Lopetegui led Spain into a new era in World Cup qualifying, going 9-1 while outscoring opponents 36-3. But now that touch is gone, replaced by Fernando Hierro with little time to prepare. He has one season as a professional manager, taking over second-division Spanish club Oveido for one season. After he failed to lead them to promotion, Hierro and the club parted ways.
Don’t expect radical changes with Hierro in charge, but it’ll be interesting to see how he plays his adjustments. Spain play a 4-2-3-1 with Diego Costa up top, but Hierro has a starting XI filled with veterans and a bench filled with exciting youth. How he manages that balance could determine how far Spain advance in this tournament.
The reigning European champions, Portugal outlasted a Ronaldo injury to finish qualifying as strong as any team. Under Fernando Santos, they’ve developed a reputation as one of the world’s best defensive teams. While the spotlight shines brightest on Ronaldo, stalwart center backs Pepe and Bruno Alves are the beating heart of that team. It’s why when Ronaldo was unable to compete in the Euro final, Portugal was able to outlast France defensively and win the tournament with one magical strike from Eder.
With a major tournament win under their belt, expect Portugal to be poised in the early goings of this tournament. It’s probably the last run for Ronaldo (33), Pepe (35) and Alves (36) together, so Portugal will be looking to make this one special.
Expect Santos to stick with his widened 4-4-2, with Southampton fullback Cedric Soares making plays down the flank.
Portugal vs. Spain Lineups
Lineups are released one hour before kickoff
Portugal: Patricio, Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro, Carvalho, Moutinho, Fernandes, Bernardo, Ronaldo, Guedes
Spain: De Gea, Nacho, Pique, Ramos, Alba, Busquets, Koke, Silva, Isco, Iniesta, Costa