PORTUGAL v SPAIN
Live on BBC One. Friday, June 15. Kick-off 7pm.
THE bitter rivalry between these two sides makes for an early tournament spectacle in Sochi and there's more than just national pride at stake here. With both sides set to storm Group B the winner of this one will be set up with a potentially better seeded knockout tie with the runners-up in Group A.
Much has been said about that once great Spanish era coming to an end but rule them out at your peril – Andres Inesta and Co may just have something to say about that and the midfielder enters this World Cup slightly older but in sparkling form.
Julen Lopetegui may have “exited stage left” but I'm not convinced that will rock the spirit of a team that hold such experience on the world stage – the Spaniards have to be preferred to outscore a Portugeuse outfit who grabbed just nine goals in the last Euros and converted only four in the group stages.
La Fuira Roja are undefeated in 19 games and watching them humiliate an Italian side last year was reminder enough for me of the potential they still hold. Sergio Busquets, Iniesta and David Silva are among the names who will add a depth of experience but factor in the fresh talent and, once again, you are looking at a very powerful footballing beast with Asensio and Alcantara's additions layering further capacity alongside world class playmakers like Koke and the superb attacking prowess of Isco.
So, what of Portugal?
For me – at least since Luis Figo's days – they have always been in the category of ”never write them off' but there is a certain something lacking from the cohesion of the team. What they do have is a certain lad called Cristiano Ronaldo … you may have heard of him?
I remember years ago telling a United fan the then skinny young Ronaldo was just a “one trick pony” winger … how wrong I was!
With 26 goals from 27 La Liga appearances and a frightening 15 goals from just 13 Champions League games this season he may be a guy I dislike personally but what a player he's been – in a generation without Messi he would stand head and shoulders above the rest and at 33 years of age still has plenty to prove although given his team-mates his best chance may just come from a set-piece.
This one boils down to the team whose value is based on the sum of its parts versus a team driven by individual brilliance and I'm taking the former to gain the upper hand over the latter with a passing and possession game built on years of experience – it's also a style that might just stir up the primordial anger that bubbles never far from the surface of a certain Kepler Laveran de Lima Ferreira … Pepe for short!
Best of luck ?
- Spain goal before 53 mins (5-6, Bet365)
- Spain to score a penalty (8-1, bet365)
- Isco (9-4, bet365)
- Isco (6-1, bet365)
- Spain win
- Over 1 Spain Goal
- Pepe carded
- (13-2, bet365)