Michael Probst/Associated Press
Spain take on European champions Portugal in the opening match of their 2018 World Cup campaign in a game that will likely have significant ramifications for the winner of Group B, just two days after firing manager Julen Lopetegui.
Lopetegui was relieved of his duties on Wednesday, having taken the vacant Real Madrid job the day prior, and replaced by sporting director Fernando Hierro, per the Guardian‘s Sid Lowe.
The Iberian rivals have not met too often in recent history. Their last clash came in the semi-finals of UEFA Euro 2012, in which Spain won on penalties after a 0-0 draw over 120 minutes.
La Roja also knocked them out of the 2010 World Cup with a 1-0 win in the last 16, though between those two clashes, Portugal did pick up a 4-0 win in a friendly.
Read on for a closer look at the tie, but first, here are the viewing details you need to catch the action:
Date: Friday, June 15
Time: 7 p.m. BST/2 p.m. ET
TV: BBC (UK), Fox (U.S.)
Per AS‘ Javier G. Matallanas, Dani Carvajal returned to training with the Spain squad on Monday, after the thigh strain he suffered in the UEFA Champions League final put his World Cup in doubt.
According to Goal’s Ryan Kelly, Portugal have no fitness concerns, and so should have a full complement available from their 23-man squad.
Portugal come into the tournament having reigned supreme at Euro 2016, but they were nevertheless set to be the underdogs against Spain.
That could all have changed after Wednesday’s drama, though, which will have caused huge disruption to La Roja’s preparation.
Football journalist Karl Matchett believes Portugal should aim to capitalise on the uncertainty:
Karl Matchett @karlmatchett
Absolutely unreal scenes. #ESP are crazy to do this. One thing for sure: #POR should go for the kill in opening game, really hammer home any uncertainty early on.
There’s some exciting talent to be found in Portugal’s team thanks to the likes of Bernardo Silva and Goncalo Guedes, though their hopes will largely come down to one man; Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo is fresh off yet another remarkably prolific season, and his longevity at the pinnacle of the game is something to behold:
The 33-year-old got off to a poor start at Euro 2016, failing to net against either Iceland or Austria in Portugal’s first two matches, and it could be difficult for them to overcome Spain if he doesn’t get on the scoresheet.
If he performs to his capabilities, though, he could help his side start the World Cup on the right foot.
Much will also depend on the state Spain have been left in by the last-minute managerial change.
Despite the absences of Sergi Roberto, Marc Bartra and a host of Premier League stars, Spain’s squad is among the strongest present in Russia. Miguel Delaney of The Independent had them picked out as favourites based on Lopetegui’s selection:
Miguel Delaney @MiguelDelaney
The depth of that squad. Even attempting to mitigate bias, Spain my favourites for World Cup https://t.co/BmCPIgpykG
Spain and Portugal—despite the former’s less-than-ideal preparation—should both be capable of reaching the knockout phase given their opponents in the group are Morocco and Iran, so this match could go a long way in deciding which of them finishes top.
Topping Group B could be a big help, as it will likely mean avoiding a Round-of-16 clash against Uruguay and instead facing one of Egypt, Russia or Saudi Arabia.
The clash will also provide a useful barometer of where Spain are at following Lopetegui’s departure, and how much we can expect from them if they do make it through the group.