GROUP B of the 2018 World Cup concludes on Monday with Portugal facing Iran in Saransk. Dan McCulloch (@danmcc84) analyses the action and pinpoints his favourite fancies.
Portugal v Iran | Monday 25th June 2018, 19:00 | BBC
Thankfully for my bank balance, the second games in Group B went pretty much to the script, with Portugal and Spain both recording narrow victories against organised and determined opponents.
I do feel that four points from their first two games rather flatters Fernando Santos’ side.
They have had fewer shots, shots on-target, corners and possession than either opponent in those matches and they have been very thankful to the ever clinical Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid forward has scored all four of his country’s goals and it is unfair to suggest that their current shots on-target to goals ratio of 80% is not sustainable.
Portugal’s success in Euro 2016 was built around an organised backline, as they conceded in just two of their seven matches. However, I thought they looked rather ragged defensively against Morocco and were thankful to some wayward finishing and heroics from ‘keeper Rui Patricio.
Thirty-four-year-old Jose Fonte, cast aside by West Ham last term, continues to start at centre half and he looks particularly suspect. Diego Costa caused him no end of problems in Portugal’s opening fixture and he was also very fortunate not to concede a penalty against Morocco.
Few goals expected
Given the defensive records of these two sides, few goals are expected and 13/10 is available on Over 2.5 Goals. However, I would rather keep 1-1 on side, and would therefore recommend backing Both Teams To Score at 5/4 on William Hill.
Iran’s games are generally low-scoring, with just two goals in their opening two matches and just 12 in their 10 fixtures in the second stage of Asian qualifying. This is a completely different test though and they will know that it’s very likely that they need to win this game if they are to progress.
When they did attack both Spain and Morocco, they looked a threat and given that a victory is required, surely AZ Alkmaar’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh – top scorer in the Eredivisie – will start this game.
I am also comforted by the fact that there are generally more goals in the final set of group stage fixtures than we see in the first. Since 1998, there have been 213 goals in 80 matches at an average of 2.67, with 42 of those matches (53%) seeing both sides find the net.
Iran may try to keep it tight initially and I would not be surprised if the game is goalless at half time, but I still believe this is a value bet. They have the weapons to hurt Portugal and I would always trust any side featuring Ronaldo to score.
Portugal v Iran– Both Teams to Score (5/4 William Hill)