When the draw for the World Cup was made, Portugal vs Spain stood out as one of the big games from the group stages in Russia. It put together the Iberian neighbors and many players who share the same heritage going head-to-head. It effectively put one of the favorites for the title against a team captained by World Player of the Year.
Ahead of the showdown, Spain’s biggest concern had been over injuries and who to pick in a squad that has multiple strong candidates. For Portugal, finding the right combination is also the biggest concern.
Deep down, many would still pick Spain to start off with three points but the dressing room has been thrown into disarray after manager Julen Lopetegui’s sacking merely 48 hours from the first game in dramatic events over the course of two days. If the off-field drama is seen on the field, expect a more even game and more drama.
On the field of play, a lot could boil down to small mistakes with four games between these two, at major tournaments, producing just four goals with Spain winning two and losing one. And someone who would be hoping to latch on to small mistakes would be Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo. Although, standing in to stop him from doing so will be Spain’s, Sergio Ramos.
Fact that both players play for Real Madrid will help in reading each others’ frailties. But, club allegiances go out the window when it comes to the World Cup. Just ask Wayne Rooney.
Captain vs Captain – Ronaldo vs Ramos: Two of the shrewdest men to take the pitch and two men who don’t like to lose and do all that is necessary to win – fight, argue, or even look to gain an undue advantage by asking for a card for an opponent.
Ronaldo has yet to find the back of the net against Spain and exited from the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championships at the hands of La Roja. One would expect Ramos, alongside Gerard Pique, to keep his physical approach in check against Ronaldo but if push comes to shove, don’t expect either to back down and plenty of cracking football.
Spain and Portugal have met 35 times with 16 wins for Spain, six wins for Portugal and 13 draws.
The only World Cup meeting came in 2010 when Spain won 1-0 in the last-16 thanks to a goal by David Villa.
Portugal are looking to become the fourth side to win back-to-back European Championships and World Cup after West Germany, France and Spain.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored 15 goals and created three in the qualifying stages. But is yet to find the goal in four games, or 340 minutes, against Spain.
Portugal have lost only once in their last nine World Cup group games, a 4-0 loss to Germany in 2014.
Portugal manager Fernando Santos has led each of his sides to knockouts in a major competition – Greece to quarters of Euro 2012 and last-16 at the 2014 World Cup and Portugal all the way to the title in 2016.
Spain have finished top of their group in three of their last four World Cups. However, Spain have won only two of their last 12 opening games – three draws and seven defeats.
This is Spain’s 11th consecutive World Cup appearance – their longest streak of participation.
None of Spain’s last 14 World Cup games have ended in a draw – winning 10 and losing four.
Spain were one of the four teams to remain unbeaten in European qualifying alongside England, Germany and Belgium.
Portugal and Spain face off at Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, with kick-off scheduled for 7pm BST.
TV, online and live stream coverage
The match will be televised live on BBC One, with coverage starting at 6.20pm BST.
You will be able to follow the match with Standard Sport’s dedicated LIVE blog.