Portugal and Spain opened up their World Cup campaigns with an entertaining draw. Now each team wants a routine victory to lock up its place in the knockout rounds. 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. Ever the showman, the 33-year-old Ronaldo has scored all four of Portugal’s goals so far while hinting that he considers himself the “GOAT,” or greatest of all time. Now he faces his former national team coach, Carlos Queiroz, who’s led Iran for the past seven years. Iran is playing in its fifth World Cup, but has never advanced out of the group stage. Queiroz’s stint coaching his Portugal ended after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa amid reports of a difficult relationship between him and Ronaldo, who implied the coach was to blame for the team’s failure. Queiroz called Monday’s game “the most interesting and important match in my seven years with Iran” and said the drama of facing Ronaldo was worthy of a Martin Scorsese movie.
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. Spain and Morocco play in Kaliningrad, the westernmost city in the World Cup, which is sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea. The Portugal-Iran match is roughly 1,180 miles (1,900 kilometers) to the east in Saransk, the smallest host city in the tournament.