World Cup Group B: Can Portugal capitalise on Spain's turmoil?
Julen Lopetegui was ousted as Spain manager just two days before their World Cup opener. Portugal had no intention to follow suit. Having won the 2016 European Championship, Fernando Santos is aiming to double up in Russia.
Dubbed the Iberian derby, Portugal against Spain has a rich history. The two countries go to war with one another on football pitches. They have contested 35 times in total, including eight major tournament games. La Roja claim bragging rights with 16 victories, five of which came during competitive matches. The most recent encounter was six years ago, wherein the Spaniard's triumphed through to the Euro final in a penalty shootout.
Portugal versus Spain offers this World Cup's first heavyweight clash. It will prove intriguing. Cristiano Ronaldo prepares to face up against several Real Madrid teammates as well as longtime Barcelona rivals. Lopetegui's departure adds more spice.
The game will be hosted in the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, with almost 48,000 watching on. Kick-off is today, at 19:00 BST.
FIFA Ranking: 4th
The European champions face their toughest Group B challenge first off. A win over Spain would send out a major statement, making a clear case to go all the way this summer.
Portugal earned passage to Russia by topping their qualification group, losing just once in ten games. They have displayed decent form in recent friendlies, too, with one win and two draws.
A Selecao das Quinas look strong, possessing a balanced squad with genuine talent in all positions. The days of being considered a one-man team are long gone. They utilise a 4-4-2 system with Ronaldo deployed as the target man.
In Rui Patricio, Portugal rely on a capable, experienced keeper. Centre-back veterans Pepe and Jose Fonte provide adequate protection. Out wide, Cedric Soares and Ricardo Pereira are both quality right-backs, with the latter always keen to venture forward. On the left, Raphael Guerreiro is competing against Mario Rui for a starting berth.
Santos generally shapes his team with three central midfielders and one winger, forming a lob sided four. Joao Moutinho and William Carvalho will operate centrally, alongside either Bruno Fernandes or Joao Mario. Bernardo Silva occupies the right. Up top, Goncalo Guedes plays just off Ronaldo. Should a more direct approach be needed, Andre Silva is available.
If Portugal's confidence wasn't already sky-high, it should be now after recent events in the Spanish camp.
FIFA Ranking: 10th
Spain remain undefeated in almost two years. They toyed with qualification, amassing 28 points from a possible 30. Continuing such form against Portugal is essential as a loss will further add to the squad's negativity.
La Roja have always been blessed with the finest players. This generation is no exception. It has world-class talent in every position.
David De Gea provides a solid wall in between the posts. Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Dani Carvajal and Jordi Alba are all among Europe's most accomplished defenders. Both full-backs will push high, offering much-needed width in the final third.
Spain's biggest asset is midfield. Sergio Busquets, tasked to protect, will be paired alongside two playmakers. Thiago Alcantara, Saul Niguez, Koke and Iniesta are all in contention for those roles. Further forward, options include David Silva, Isco, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vasquez, Iago Aspas, Rodrigo and target man Diego Costa.
La Furia Roja's hopes of claiming their second World Cup might have been lowered following Lopetegi's exit. The newly-appointed Real Madrid coach was unbeaten in 20 matches at his country's helm. However, the Spanish dressing room has the necessary experience and leadership to recover quickly from recent turmoil.
Furthermore, new manager Fernando Hierro has had little time to make any significant changes. Spain will continue to play the same possession-based football which has served them so well over the past decade. The team's blueprint is set; the players know what they must do.
Expect a tight contest. With Morocco and Iran the group's other two teams, the winner will likely finish top. Spain to edge it, 1-0.