The Spanish sailed through qualifying, with their demolition of Italy in September being particularly impressive
Spain World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide
Spain vs Iran (20th June) Match Report
Iran Starting XI: 1 Alireza Beiranvand, 3 Ehsan Hajisafi (5 Milad Mohammadi 69), 6 Saeid Ezatolahi,8 Morteza Pouraliganji, 9 Omid Ebrahimi, 10 Karim Ansarifard (18 Alireza Jahanbakhsh 75), 11 Vahid Amiri (14 Saman Ghoddos 86), 17 Mehdi Taremi, 19 Majid Hosseini, 20 Sardar Azmoun, 23 Ramin Rezaeian
Spain Starting XI: 1 David De Gea, 2 Dani Carvajal, 3 Gerard Pique, 5 Sergio Busquets,6 Andres Iniesta (8 Koke 71), 11 Lucas Vasquez (20 Marco Asensio 79), 15 Sergio Ramos, 18 Jordi Alba, 19 Diego Costa (9 Rodrigo 89), 21 David Silva, 22 Isco
Iran 0 Spain 1
Spain: Diego Costa 54
A freak goal from Diego Costa was enough to see off the dogged resistance of Iran and send Spain to the top of their group after a game played in noisy conditions in Kazan.
Backed by a boisterous crowd, Iran’s plan was to frustrate Spain by defending deep, effectively with a back six, three in midfield and only Sardar Azmoun in the opposition half. Spain found little space in the first half but they moved the ball more quickly after the break and got the breakthrough goal thanks to a fortuitous bounce off Costa.
But it was far from one-way traffic and there were notable chances for Iran after Spain had taken the lead. Karim Ansarifard rippled the side netting while Mehdi Tarebi powered his header over after Vahid Amiri had nutmegged Pique. Iran’s best chance came from another set-piece, when Tarebi thought he had fired home, but after a lengthy delay VAR confirmed the linesman’s offside call.
Matter of fact
Spain completed 716 passes, compared to 152 for Iran.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz dropped two key players, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Masoud Shojaei, who were both on yellow cards, suggesting his strategy was to save them for the final game against Portugal, while keeping the score down against Spain. In the end, his team were unlucky not something from this game.
Possession (%): 32/68
Goal attempts: 5/17
Attempts on target: 5/6
Pass accuracy (%): 63/87
Distance covered (km): 106/105
Spain vs Portugal (15th June) Match Report
Spain in their first game will have to try and stop Cristiano Ronaldo. – Read our match preview here.
Spain Starting XI: 1 David De Gea, 3 Gerard Pique, 4 Nacho, 5 Sergio Busquets, 6 Andres Iniesta (10 Thiago Alcantara 70), 8 Koke, 15 Sergio Ramos, 18 Jordi Alba, 19 Diego Costa (17 Iago Aspas 77), 21 David Silva (11 Lucas Vasquez 86), 22 Isco
Portugal Starting XI: 1 Rui Patricio, 3 Pepe, 4 Raphael Guerreiro, 6 Jose Fonte, 7 Cristiano Ronaldo, 8 Joao Moutinho, 11 Bernardo Silva (20 Ricardo Quaresma 69), 14 William Carvalho, 16 Bruno Fernandes (10 Joao Mario 68), 17 Goncalo Guedes (9 Andre Silva 80), 21 Cedric Soares
Final Score – Portugal 3 Spain 3
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo 4pen, 44, 88
Spain: Diego Costa 24, 55, Nacho 58
One of the most exhilarating games ever seen at a group stage of the World Cup. Spain appeared to be heading for victory after twice recovering to cancel out goals from Cristiano Ronaldo. A third goal, from Nacho’s spectacular volley, was a just reward for Spain’s intricate and intense passing. But Ronaldo had the last word when he completed his hat-trick with a superb free-kick with two minutes of normal time remaining.
Man of the match
Cristiano Ronaldo joined the small list of players who have scored in four World Cups.
Matter of fact
Cristiano Ronaldo scored the 51st hat-rick of his career. It was also the 51st hat-trick scored as a World Cup.
This was the first game in charge for Spain’s interim coach Fernando Hierro following the sacking of Real Madrid-bound Julen Lopetegui. But their opening two goals – the first set up by a long ball, the second via a set-piece – were not typically Spanish.
Possession (%): 39/61
Goal attempts: 8/12
Attempts on target: 3/5
Pass accuracy (%): 87/93
Distance covered (km): 102/103
Spain World Cup Guide
“I wouldn’t want to face Spain at the 2018 World Cup,” said Lionel Messi. And by the end of their qualifying campaign, others must have felt the same way. Spain finished top of their group, and ultimately did so with an authority and assuredness that was unexpected after the way they exited the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Euros.
Their progress was virtually secured when they outclassed Italy at the Santiago Bernabeu, going on to collect 28 points and score 36 goals, while conceding just three.
Key Moments in Qualifying
Hammering Liechtenstein 8-0 may not sound much, but Julen Lopetegui’s first game reveals a coach who is thoughtful about tactical shifts and is willing to change things.
Led by Isco, Spain are superb as they beat Italy 3-0 to effectively decide the group.
The Catalan independence referendum, which is declared illegal by the Spanish government, brings conflict to the surface and Gerard Pique is abused when training at Spain’s Las Rozas HQ. Later in the month qualification is confirmed with a 1-0 win in Israel.
Spain World Cup Group
Spain World Cup Friendlies
Spain started their 2018 international warm up matches for the World Cup against Mats Hummels and Germany on the 23rd of March, of which they drew 1-1. Then, guided by Isco, the Spanish hammered Argentina 6-1. A draw against Switzerland followed and finally they beat Tunisia on the 9th of June.
- 23rd March – Germany (drew 1-1)
- 27th March – Argentina (won 6-1)
- 3rd June – Switzerland (drew 1-1)
- 9th June – Tunisia (won 1-0)
Spain World Cup Fixtures
Fernando Hierro (age 50 – 23/3/1968)
The head coach role had been filled by Julen Lopetegui but it was announced on the 13th of June, two days before their World Cup was due to start, that he had been sacked after taking the Real Madrid job. Real Madrid legend Fernando Hierro will take over but time will tell if it does throw Spain’s World Cup into disarray. What makes this even more shocking is that Lopetegui had guided the team on a 20-game unbeaten run.
Watching Isco take Giorgio Chiellini and Italy apart, and then glide around the Rosaleda in Spain’s penultimate game of 2017, it seems incredible to think that he didn’t make the final squad in 2014 and 2016. Outstanding this year, he will be the creative heart of the side in 2018.
David Silva has always been there, even if he perhaps didn’t get the recognition he deserved alongside illustrious team-mates like Iniesta and Xavi. He is the top scorer under Lopetegui, with 11 goals. And Jordi Alba is still around as well, flying up and down the wing, head back and legs whirring.
Diego Costa’s move from Chelsea to Atletico Madrid has been delayed by the club’s ban on incoming transfers. The deal will finally go through in January, but having played no club football for the past six months he is in a race to get match fit.
Spain World Cup Squad
Final 23-man Squad –
GOALKEEPERS: Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao)
DEFENDERS: Nacho Fernandez, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal (all Real Madrid), Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba (both Barcelona), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
MIDFIELDERS: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets (both Barcelona), Saul Niguez, Koke (both Atletico Madrid), Isco, Marco Asensio (both Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City)
FORWARDS: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid)
Probable Starting XI
Spain World Cup Injuries
Sergio Busquets has recently suffered a toe injury, but should be back for the World Cup.
The Unanswered Questions
Can they keep up the current form?
After a recent friendly, Costa Rica’s coach said of Spain: “They move the ball with one touch and at devilish speed.” That will be the key to their game next summer – if they can maintain that speed of circulation at the end of a long season.
Who plays up front?
Considering the squad selection Diego Costa is probably going to start. And then there’s Rodrigo, who is scoring goals for Valencia and Spain. Against Italy, they played without a fixed striker – something that even Alvaro Morata, the “victim” of the tactic, said was a good idea. Shockingly, Morata has failed to make the squad at all.
One “pivot” or two?
Usually, Sergio Busquets has played alongside another midfielder – usually Koke, sometimes Saul, occasionally Thiago – but at times he plays alone with two “interiors” ahead of him to either side.
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