Could Portugal v Spain be the game of the World Cup group stages?

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When the World Cup group stage was announced last December there were some notable match-ups that caught the eye.

Argentina meet Nigeria, again! Javier Mascherano has taken a swipe at the Super Eagles, saying their ‘disorganisation’ will actually be their biggest threat.

You also have the potentially pivotal encounter between England and Belgium. These two sides should be jostling for top spot but if either nation are looking for points then it could be a real cracker.

However, it’s the Portugal v Spain tie that has drawn the most attention.

The announcement that Spain have sacked their manager a day before the tournament begins has really stoked the fire.

The Iberian derby can be feisty without managerial strife. The World Cup second-round clash in 2010 showed that.

It can be edgy. There were four consecutive draws between the two nations from 1991 and 2002.

It can also be one-sided. Spain humbled Portugal in 2003, running out 0-3 winners. But the Portuguese would get revenge seven years later in a 4-0 thrashing in 2010.

Nonetheless, this is the first World Cup fixture between the two since that last-sixteen tie in Cape Town.

It may not be straight knock-out quite yet but both have big questions to answer coming into this one.

Portugal’s camp looks quite rosy from the outside. They travel to Russia as reigning European Champions and hope to navigate themselves to the last-stages yet again.

In Cristiano Ronaldo they’ve arguably got the best goal-scorer in the competition and have a team that are fresh from tasting major tournament victory.

However, by including players from Sporting Lisbon they’ve unwillingly dragged themselves into the middle of a player revolt.

Goalkeeper Rui Patricio, midfielder’s William Carvalho and Bruno Fernandes as well as forward Gelson Martins have announced they want to rip up their club contracts.

This has come off the back of a crazy fan rebellion that left many Sporting players hurt and seriously considering their futures.

Patricio has already walked out on the club since the fan invasion.

There will be much speculation around their futures as scouts are sent to Russia to cherry-pick the departing talent.

The World Cup could either be a sanctuary of calm away from the storm for the Lisbon players or it could pre-occupy their minds enough to derail their tournament.

Julen Lopetegui’s shock sacking by the Spanish Football Federation has added yet another angle to this complex fixture.

It was only announced on Tuesday that Lopetegui would be taking over from Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid.

A surprising but not such a controversial decision from Los Blancos.

Or so they thought.

It was expected that despite the announcement the players would rally behind the manager for a full-on tilt at glory yet again. Eight years after their World Cup victory in South Africa.

The match-up itself features some exciting young prospects such as Saul Niguez and Koke facing Carvalho and Bernardo Silva.

Whilst Diego Costa will hope to have the last laugh at Ronaldo expense.

However, with Spain’s manager now gone the summer’s feast of football could have just served up an early treat.

Like when you’re offered dessert before the main course – but this time you take it!   

All Odds and Markets correct as of date of publication

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