MOSCOW – Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, seen by many as the globe’s best player, and his country’s squad represent the biggest obstacle to Spain’s ambitions in the 2018 World Cup.
Friday’s draw in Moscow put Spain and its Iberian neighbor in Group B, along with Iran and Morocco.
While Spain, the 2010 World Cup winner, avoids reigning champion Germany and other contenders such as Brazil, Argentina and France, La Roja cannot afford to take Portugal lightly.
Besides Ronaldo, who has taken home the Ballon d’Or the last two years running, the Portugal squad boasts world-class players of the caliber of Gonçalo Guedes, Andre Silva and Bernardo Silva.
This will be Portugal’s fifth appearance in the FIFA World Cup, where its best showing was a third-place finish in 1966.
More recently, it lost to Spain in the round of 16 in 2010 before failing to even get out of the group stage in 2014.
Though La Roja also fared poorly in Brazil 2014, it is among the favorites heading into next year’s tournament in Russia, having yet to lose a competitive match since Julen Lopetegui became coach in 2016.
Spain and Portugal will square off on June 15 in Sochi.
Iran, coached by Carlos Queiroz, was the first Asian team to secure a place in the 2018 World Cup, marking its second consecutive appearance and fifth overall.
The squad has lost just twice in its last 38 outings and is riding a 10-game winning streak. Iran is led by Rubin Kazan forward Sardar Azmoun, with 22 goals in 30 matches.
Morocco qualified for the World Cup under the direction of Herve Renard, the only coach to win the Africa Cup of Nations twice: with the Moroccans in 2015 and with Zambia in 2012.
This will be Morocco’s first appearance in the World Cup since 1998. Its best previous result was reaching the round of 16 in 1986.