Everything will be at stake when a surprising Iranian side does battle with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo on Monday afternoon. Two teams need to qualify from Group B, and with Spain and Portugal sitting at 4, and Iran with 3 – somebody is bound to get sent home heartbroken.
The odds are likely stacked most against Iran, though they have shown some great traits through two matches. Despite being outskilled in both of their first two games, the Iranian defensive group and team structure has been elite. They frustrated Morocco and got fortunate with a last-minute own goal, and against Spain only suffered a narrow 1-nil defeat, though they defended in heroic fashion. Portugal is likely fully content with a draw, but Iran will need to open things up and go for the win. How will that affect their tactics and style? Read on below for more details on this, as well as an official betting prediction for this big Group B closer.
Iran vs. Portugal Betting Odds:
Over 2 (-120)
Under 2 (+100)
Iran vs. Portugal Pick:
Despite an epic start to the tournament, Ronaldo with four impressive goals does not sit atop the Golden Boot standings. That distinction goes to England’s Harry Kane at the moment with 5, and you can bet Ronaldo will look to do some damage vs. Iran. The only thing is, his team only needs a tie so they may be more conservative than usual, and there’s also the fact that Iran’s play without the ball has been superb this tournament. Look for their devotion to structure and organization to continue despite their need to win, and this could frustrate the talented Real Madrid superstar.
Iran is managed by a Portuguese gentleman in Carlos Queiroz. He knows their opponents very well and will no doubt have a plan draw up to find a way to advance and break through Portugal, giving them the goal they need. Whether or not the Iranians have the talent remains to be seen. They still have not scored a goal at Russia 2018 on their own accord, and that will need to change if they want to get to the Round of 16.
Queiroz is expected to make some subtle changes to make his squad a little more attacking. He’ll go from a 5-4-1 to a 4-1-4-1, and move the talented Omar Ebrahimi to a more advanced role up front. He should be able to provide good link-play and service with their outright striker up top, Sardar Azmoun. Azmoun has yet to score in the tournament, but has proven to be a lethal finisher in the Russian league, and could be a threat against Portugal’s ageing back-line.
I’d expect Iran to play very closely to how we saw them fare against Spain when they went down a goal. They’ll press Portugal’s weak defense – even in their own territory, and fearlessly counter with pace at every turnover or chance they get. It may leave them a tad vulnerable at the back, but they possess a great defensive record and will need to take chances to win.
A lot of pressure will be put on Iran to try and shut down Cristiano Ronaldo. And though Iran are rigid, the form he’s in right now is unbelievable. They just don’t have the quality to do it. Iran will get chances and shine brightly – but there isn’t enough attacking quality to take full advantage of a susceptible Portuguese back-line with a goal. I’d look for the Iranians to be uncharacteristically aggressive in a cagey affair, and that could also be the proverbial dagger to them – as Portugal’s counter and speed can be lethal. In a low-scoring 1-nil affair, I see Portugal sneaking out a victory – with who else but Ronaldo scoring the goal.
MY PICK = Portugal (-140)