World Cup Group B: Irresistible striker meets immovable defence when Portugal takes on Iran
Group B at the World Cup has been crammed with intrigue. Before the enthralling 3-3 encounter between Portugal and Spain, there were late heroics when Iran toppled the heavily-fancied Morocco 1-0. That result has left both European heavyweights with work to do.
Last time out, the current European Championship holders were nothing more than efficient. As you'd expect, Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring with a bullet-header, but from them on, they were happy to sit back and ensure the three points were safe - rather than going for the jugular and risking the victory.
Iran's campaign did get off to a flyer, and although they fought valiantly against Spain, they walked away with no points. That does leave the Asian side in a precarious position. They have to leave everything they have out on the field in their final outing.
Ronaldo's Portugal are sitting joint-top with Spain on four points, but they simply cannot afford any slip-ups here. Carlos Quieroz's well-drilled Iranian team won't give anything away cheaply. These tactics are designed to frustrate.
This game is straight-forward. Win, you're through to the last sixteen. Lose, and in all likelihood, you're packing your bags and heading home. A draw would see Portugal through, but Iran would be hoping for Morocco to beat Spain; which is extremely improbable.
FIFA Ranking: 37th
Iran's tournament is based around keeping things tight at the back. Eventually, they're hoping that'll lead to careless mistakes being made from their opposition. It's all down to a real team effort. Their starting XI isn't littered with household names (outside of Iran), but expect them to work hard for one another.
Clearly, Queiroz won't be planning on changing his tactics anytime soon. The 'Park the Bus' mentality has gotten them so far, so their system will remain the same. However, Ehsan Hajsafi did pick up an injury against Spain, so it's unlikely he'll feature in this one.
The sheer fact that they've made it to Russia 2018 is something to be proud of. They'll do what they can against a talented Portugal side, and it'll be interesting to see if the usually cool Ronaldo gets flabbergasted by Iran's defensive tactics.
FIFA Ranking: 4th
So far, Portgual have seemingly avoided any injury issues. That leaves Fernando Santos with his full 23-man complement to choose from. In terms of formation, I doubt they'll change up from the narrow 4-3-3 they've deployed in their last two games.
It comes as no surprise that Ronaldo has been their main man, scoring four goals in Portugal's two outings so far. The Real Madrid man does need some help, though. Bernardo Silva, Joao Mario and Goncalo Guedes all struggled against Morocco, so don't be surprised to see one or two changes made. Bruno Fernandes, Adrien Silva or Gelson Martin's could be the lucky beneficiaries
Defensively, I'd imagine things will stay the same. Jose Fonte has been solid, whereas Pepe has been hit and miss. I'd also love to see more from both Cedric Soares and Raphael Guerreiro; two brilliantly-talented full-backs.
Despite Iran's valiance against both Spain and Morocco, their added-time winner against the African's will likely be their only joyous moment during Russia 2018. Portugal will be too strong, and although it may take Ronaldo and company time to break them down, their stern wall will eventually fall.
I'll go for a 2-0 Portugal victory, which will be enough to see the Euro 2016 winners safely through into the knockout stages.