Iran vs Spain – Wednesday, June 20, 18:00BST/19:00CEST/20:00 MSK – Kazan-Arena, Kazan, Russia
It has been a turbulent period for Spain at this first week in Russia. La Furia Roja entered the tournament as one of the favourites but then seemed to go on self-destruct mode.
Within hours of Spain arriving in Russia, it was announced that head coach Julen Lopetegui had accepted an offer to take the Real Madrid job once the tournament is over. Lopetegui had recently signed a new contract that included an exit clause and Real aware of the clause approached the coach and happily paid the €2 million to sign Lopetegui.
The Spanish football federation, in the form of president Luis Rubiales, reacted furiously to the news. Despite being begged by players to keep Lopetegui Rubiales decided to fire Spain’s head coach, replacing him with the inexperienced Fernando Hierro, just days ahead of the opening match against Portugal.
Facing the toughest opponent in Group B, in the form of Portugal, it was a reaction that could have backfired. But Spain played very well against the rivals, and it was only thanks to a fantastic Cristiano Ronaldo freekick two minutes before the final whistle that La Furia Roja did not walk away with all three points in what was an incredible 3-3 draw.
Iran, in the meantime, were among the surprises on matchday 1. Team Melli faced Morocco, who are deemed to be the most talented African side. Iran, however, had one of the best defensive records in World Cup qualifying and did not concede a goal until the final game against Syria.
A compact side Iran have brought their defensive abilities to the World Cup. Sitting deep against Morocco the Iranians relied on their quick forward Sardar Azmoun to exploit Morocco’s defensive weakness and with just seconds to go got the goal that would win them the game after a freekick that was redirected by Morocco’s Aziz Bouhaddouz to give Iran their second ever win at a World Cup.
Those defensive abilities will once again play a major role when Iran take on one of the biggest sides at this World Cup. Spain, in the meantime, will have settled down from the chaos surrounding the coaching change and even though Iran might be a well-organised side Spain should have more than enough to pick apart Team Melli and win the game.
Iran vs Spain – Players to look out for:
Sardar Azmoun #20 – Iran (Rubin Kazan)
Sardar Azmoun will feel right at home against Spain. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder moved to Russia five years ago joining Rubin Kazan in the January 2013 from Sepahan’s youth squad. Working with legendary head coach Kurban Berdyev at both Rubin and FC Rostov Azmoun has scored 29 goals and 14 assists in 115 Russian Football Premier League games. A flexible attacking midfielder Azmoun has often been linked with a move to a major European side and the World Cup – he has already scored 23 goals in 33 games for Iran – and was excellent in Iran’s first game against Morocco where he was unplayable at times dissecting Iran’s defence at will it seemed.
Diego Costa #18 – Spain (Atlético Madrid)
With Iran sitting deep Atlético Madrid forward Diego Costa will be crucial in this match. The Brazilian-born forward has both the edge and the goal scoring instinct to force a goal when playing against deep-sitting defensive lines. But Costa is much more than just penalty box striker as his goal against Portugal on matchday 1 demonstrated -winning the ball at the edge of the box he danced past several defenders to score a beautiful goal.
Spain vs Iran – Match Statistics
- Iran have never won against a team from Europe at the World Cup. In six matches they lost five and drew one.
- In four games Spain have never lost against a team from Asia (W2 D2)
- Spain have conceded 10 goals in the last four World Cup matches – as many as in the previous 15 matches.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Iran vs Spain – 1-2
Spain vs Iran – Lineups
Beiranvand – Hajsafi, Pouraliganji, Cheshmi, Rezeian – Ebrahimi – Ansarifard, Shojaei, Amiri, Jahanbaksh – Azmoun
Head Coach: Carlos Queiroz
de Gea – Alba, Pique, Ramos, Fernández – Koke, Busquets, Iniesta – Isco, Diego Costa, Silva
Head Coach: Fernando Hierro
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.