MOSCOW – Portugal and Spain opened up their World Cup campaigns with an entertaining draw. Now each team wants a routine victory to secure its place in the round of 16.
The first day of simultaneous matches at the tournament includes Portugal playing Iran at the same time its neighbor and rival faces Morocco. The games are scheduled that way to avoid giving any team the advantage of knowing its competitors’ results as group play wraps up.
Portugal and Spain followed up their 3-3 draw with 1-0 victories. That means they’re level atop Group B with four points and the same goal difference. Iran is one point behind thanks to its win over Morocco.
That means Iran could eliminate Portugal from the World Cup with a win. But if Spain loses to Morocco, Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal could advance even in defeat.
Iran is playing in its fifth World Cup, but has never advanced out of the group stage.
Spain’s sudden dismissal of coach Julen Lopetegui was the talk of the tournament before play began. But that seems like ages ago. Players have moved on under new coach Fernando Hierro.
“We are happy with him and we are learning a lot,” left back Jordi Alba said of Hierro. “The idea remains the same as before with Lopetegui. The team’s essence remains the same.”
Morocco outplayed both Portugal and Iran in stretches, but has yet to score a goal, losing both matches 1-0. Spain is powered by Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa, who has three goals in two matches but could be frustrated by Morocco’s defense, which is anchored by Medhi Benatia of Juventus.
Both games are at noon.
Here’s a look at Monday’s other matches:
URUGUAY VS. RUSSIAThe host nation would top its group with a victory or a draw in Samara, thanks to its superior goal difference. Russia beat up on overmatched Saudi Arabia and undermanned Egypt for eight goals in its two victories.
Uruguay, the favorite to win the group, got past each opponent 1-0 and is also assured a spot in the next round.
The Group A winner will face the second-place team from Group B in the round of 16, which could be Iran, Portugal or Spain, while the Group B victor will face the runner-up from Russia’s group. A matchup with Ronaldo and Portugal would give newly enthusiastic Russian soccer fans a chance to see how their team stacks up with the world’s best.
The South Americans have veteran forward Luis Suarez and a rich World Cup history as one of only five teams to win it twice. Uruguay is 14th in the FIFA rankings, while Russia is the lowest-ranked team in the field at No. 70.
The match is scheduled for 8 a.m.
SAUDI ARABIA VS. EGYPTA disastrous World Cup for the teams wraps up with a meaningless match.
The tournament has been cruel not just to the Saudis and the Egyptians, but to Arab nations as a whole. They had lost all eight matches entering Monday.
Egypt came in with high hopes because it has one of soccer’s biggest stars in Mohamed Salah, the Liverpool striker and reigning Premier League player of the year. But Salah injured ligaments in his shoulder in the Champions League final and hasn’t been the same player at the World Cup. He scored on a late penalty against Russia after sitting out Egypt’s opener.
Kickoff is at 8 a.m.