Thursday 18 October 2018

Russia, Ronaldo and Iran – what to watch out for on Monday

Portugal’s clash with Iran is one of the most intriguing fixtures.

Cristiano Ronaldo will hope to help Portugal into the last 16 (Tim Goode/EMPICS)
Cristiano Ronaldo will hope to help Portugal into the last 16 (Tim Goode/EMPICS)

By Press Association Sport staff

The final round of World Cup group games begin on Monday as European heavyweights Spain and Portugal look to book their last-16 berths.

Here Press Association Sport details what to look out for in the third and final matches in Groups A and B.

Are Russia for real?

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Will Russia be celebrating again on Monday? (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Eight goals scored, two convincing victories. The hosts have been one of the surprise packages so far, but thoughts about how good they actually are should be considered against the fact they have only faced Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Uruguay, semi-finalists eight years ago, represent a far sterner test. If the already-qualified Russians can see off Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Co, they might make believers out of the sceptics.

Can Iran shock Portugal?

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Iran are backed by a partisan crowd (Adam Davy/EMPICS)

Group B remains open given Portugal and Spain are on four points and Iran have three. Spain will be expected to see off Morocco so the intrigue is likely to be in Saransk, where Iran and Portugal meet. Iran, roared on by huge support, frustrated Spain for large periods in their 1-0 defeat while the Euro 2016 champions were hanging on against Morocco. Portugal, spearheaded by an in-form Ronaldo, should progress to the last 16 but Iran have shown enough in their first two games to suggest they are capable of springing a surprise.

Ronaldo’s response to Kane’s treble

All of England may have been delighted to see Harry Kane score a hat-trick against Panama on Sunday, but a man from Madeira might have been throwing his television remote at the screen. Kane’s treble took him to five goals for the tournament, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the golden boot. Portugal’s talisman will not like that and will get a chance to respond in his country’s final group game.

Can Spain show their strength?

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Diego Costa, right, has been in fine form (Adam Davy/EMPICS)

After the first round of games many were suggesting Spain looked the strongest side of all 32 teams at the tournament, even though they only drew 3-3 with Portugal. Yet, after labouring to a 1-0 success over a resolute Iran, their admirers were forced into a little bit of a rethink. Fernando Hierro’s men can regain some of that support if they take care of an already-eliminated Morocco side in Kaliningrad.

So long, Salah

After such a sensational season with Liverpool, Egypt winger Mohamed Salah has had a rough few weeks. The 26-year-old was forced off early in the Champions League final with a shoulder injury, which then prevented him from featuring in his country’s first World Cup game and clearly bothered him when he did play in the 3-1 loss to Russia last Tuesday. The Pharoahs are already out and Salah’s time in Russia is in danger of being remembered for the wrong reasons, with Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov, widely accused of human rights violations, granting him honorary citizenship. Egypt face Saudi Arabia on Monday and Salah will want to leave an impression on this competition on the pitch.

Press Association

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