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Why Portugal v Spain is the game of the World Cup group stage

Dave Burin | 15 June 2018

Lopetegui exit adds another major plotline

They’re neighbours and old foes, and later this week Portugal and Spain will be facing off once again in the pair’s World Cup Group B opener.

Past clashes and the current squads already made this one of the group stage’s standout games. But a saga in the Spanish camp has added yet more intrigue.

The Coral News Team look at why the Iberian battle promises to be the highlight of the group stages…

Goodbye Lopetegui, Hello Hierro…

In one of the most dramatic sackings in memory, Spain turfed out manager Julen Lopetegui just two days before their World Cup opener. Following news the 51-year-old had agreed a deal to join Real Madrid, the Spanish board cut ties with him.

Those behind the scenes have acted quickly to install legendary player Fernando Hierro as manager for the tournament.

Whether or not he sticks with Lopetegui’s preferred 4-3-3 system and regular starters will be revealed on Friday. So too the reaction of his squad members. It’s far from ideal preparation for the tournament, and could well affect their mentality.

Plenty of history between the pair

Few sides in international history have a longer backstory than Spain and Portugal. And clashes between the pair – from tense affairs to one-sided routs – have a history of being thrilling clashes.

The last clash came in a cagey Euro 2012 semi-final, with Spain eventually triumphing on penalties. That followed the 2010 meeting when Selecao das Quinas produced a 4-0 demolition of Spain – with Helder Postiga producing a brace.

That shared history and geographical proximity will add an extra spice to the atmosphere, and bodes well for another memorable game.

Can Ronaldo end his barren Spain streak?

Cristiano Ronaldo may have spent the last nine years rampaging through La Liga – chalking up 311 goals in 292 games – but he’s still never scored against Spain for his national side.

The 33-year-old has faced La Furia Roja four times, but has no goals and a solitary assist to his name. Whether he can finally be the difference-maker in a fixture Spain have generally dominated remains to be seen.

There’s also a good chance this is Ronaldo’s last World Cup. By the time the tournament in Qatar arrives, he’ll be 37-years-old. It may also be his last chance to end his difficult streak against Portugal’s fiercest rivals.

Click here for the latest Portugal v Spain odds from Coral.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing