Spain vs Portugal… FIFA 2018 gears up for first European clash

Rajat Kain

Spain's players warm up during the official training session in FIFA 2018. AP/PTI

Spain’s players warm up during the official training session in FIFA 2018.
AP/PTI

The top contest between two Iberian rivals – Portugal and Spain – has seldom failed to captivate the audience. The edgy fight is not just between the style and technique of contrasting nature but the narratives of the history as well. The two will lock horns in a mouth watering contest of group B tonight.

Four encounters in the major tournaments — the World Cup and the Euros — may have produced only four goals but the contest has remained red hot between the La Roja and Selecao has always been enthralling.

Spain, the winners of FIFA 2010 in South Africa, is one of the European power house and Portugal, with Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, are the defending European champions. The contest is on.

For the Spain, the tournament began early with an unpleasant off-field event after their national coach Julen Lopetegui was fired on the eve of the tournament as he had signed up as Real Madrid’s next coach. Lopetegui was soon replaced by former skipper and ace playmaker Fernando Hierro.

But back in home… La Roja fans are upbeat in their hopes…

“What he changed is the mentality in the sense that he has to renew the illusion in the players, he has to renew the willingness to win in the players. Because they were not successful in the last World Cup, Spanish Journalist Juan Castro said.

The Portugal too is suffering from the disquiet within the squad but their fans are looking up at its star-filled line up led five times Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, who is regarded as the best footballer in the world today.

The team also has rising stars in young players stars Cedric Soares, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes among others, who have diversified the team.

“I still think that much of Portugal’s chances will rely on whether he’s in good shape or not in Russia,” Portuguese sportswriter Marco Vaza said.

Sochi: Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo eyes the ball during Portugal's official training on the eve of the group B match between Portugal and Spain at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, June 14, 2018. AP/PTI

Sochi: Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo eyes the ball during Portugal’s official training on the eve of the group B match between Portugal and Spain at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, June 14, 2018. AP/PTI

It is not the just the home fans but Portugal or say Ronaldo’s worldwide following has made Selecao at least favourites in their opening game.

“Cristiano Ronaldo’s definitely gonna play. I think they (Spain) don’t stand a chance. So Portugal, most definitely…,” Laura Pumarejo, Portugal Fan from Puerto Rico said.

But on the other side, Sergio Ramos side is not to be discounted away with. Fans are rooting for the younger attacking players who have since the last world cup matured into the bigger roles.

“Even though Portugal has Cristiano, Spain has more players in their respective positions, who are better individually than Portugal,’ Juan Antonio Fernandez, a Spanish fan said.

As the match kicks off Friday night, eyes will be on 33-year-old Ronaldo, who is possibly playing his last world cup. Will he be able to add a World Cup victory this time to his illustrious CV, the game may at least drop hints.

(With inputs from Agencies)