The first major match of the World Cup concludes the second day of action, as Spain and Portugal close out the first day of Group B play. Portugal enter the tournament as champions of Europe, while Spain begin group play embroiled in a managerial controversy.
Portugal vs. Spain Odds
Odds are tight for this matchup, with Spain a slim moneyline favorite at +110. The next-best odds are for the draw at +230, with Portugal the underdog at +320.
Without much separating these teams, Spain is a small dog laying a half-goal at +105. Portugal is -103 getting the half goal, which could prove the difference in this contest.
The total is set at 2 goals, with the over (-130) a slight favorite over the under (+120) over at 5Dimes.
Portugal vs. Spain Prediction
These teams are familiar European foes, but they’ve only met four times in World Cup history. Even in those matches they were close foes, as Spain hold a 2-1 edge in the matchup but only four goals have been scored across the four meetings.
Of course, there will be much discussion about the sacking of Spain manager Julen Lopetegui just days before the tournament. Lopetegui was on a 20-match unbeaten streak with Spain, but agreed to terms with Real Madrid without consulting the national team. He was immediately removed and replaced by Fernando Hierro, who had 89 caps of his own for Spain before retiring from international football in 2002. That was before Spain started dominating the international soccer world- they would go on to win back-to-back Euro tournaments, sandwiched by a World Cup title in 2010.
Hierro has managerial experience, and the Spanish players are not lacking in confidence and tactics. But where Hierro could struggle is in lineups and substitutions, something that is massive considering the depth of this Spanish squad. Sure, the regulars like David Silva and Andres Iniesta will start, but how will Hierro work Marco Asensio into the mix?
I mentioned the four goals in four meetings earlier, but this game points toward a low-scoring affair. Despite having Ronaldo up front, Portugal won Euro 2016 by playing lockdown defense. They barely made it out of the group stage, but went on to allow just one goal from their Round of 16 match until they raised the trophy. That defense, once again led by Pepe and Bruno Alves, will be responsible for keeping opponents at bay long enough for Ronaldo to work his magic.
On top of Portugal’s defense, Spain’s biggest deficiency at World Cups has been scoring. While they may be the best passing team in the tournament, they’ve consistently struggled to produce goals. One reason for that is the lack of a dominant goal scorer, and this year the burden will be on Diego Costa to produce offense.
While the Lopetegui is big, I think the biggest part of it- the substitutions- won’t really play a major impact until the knockout rounds. Spain and Portugal share the group with Iran and Morroco, so both teams know that this is by far their toughest match of group play. If both can escape with a point, it’ll put them both on a course for seven points and the next round.
Prediction: 1-1 draw