Portugal - Two years ago Portugal surprised everyone by claiming the European Championships despite winning only one of their games inside of 90 minutes, a semi final win over Wales. They drew every group game, beat Croatia in extra time, Poland on penalties and won the final in extra time over France. It was Eder who scored the winner, his first ever competitive goal for Portugal. It would be an even bigger surprise if Portugal managed to win the World Cup despite a very impressive qualification in which they dropped only 3 points in an away defeat to Switzerland. Four years ago they were knocked out in the group stage by USA and Germany, a very disappointing campaign, so they will be out to improve on that but it will be a surprise for me if they manage to match their best ever performance of fourth place back in 2006.
There is absolutely no doubt that Portugal's quality is mostly in attacking areas. Bernardo Silva was outstanding for Monaco last season, and this season has played his part in a Manchester City team that has strolled the Premier League. He has the ability to unlock any defense with his skill, usually from the right hand side. William Carvalho was widely tipped to become a superstar, and although he hasn't quite fulfilled his potential yet, he is a crucial part of the central midfield area. He provides a more defensive platform for more noted attacking players like Andre Gomes, Joao Moutinho and Joao Mario to join the main man in attack.
The big problem for Portugal is their ageing central defenders. Bruno Alves has hardly looked convincing since his move to Rangers, the 36 year old is likely to be involved in the squad, and decisions will have to be made regarding 35 year old Pepe, 34 year old Jose Fonte and 32 year old Rolando. It will likely be the last tournament for whoever is selected, but so many games in a short period will be tough for players of that age.
Spain - Four years ago Spain were defending their title and failed miserably, being hammered by Netherlands in the first game, and following it up by a defeat to Chile. By the time they beat Australia it was too late. It was the end on an era as legends like Xavi, David Villa, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas decided it would be their last World Cup. This time around they come with a younger squad after a comfortable qualifying campaign, beating Italy in their group and only dropping two points in total with a 1-1 draw in Turin. The type of football that Spain play is always easy on the eye, and they are well set up in midfield to play possession football, but also have players with the ability to create chances in tight areas. Thiago, Isco and Koke are all small in stature and are very comfortable on the ball, and along with Andres Iniesta can all play anywhere across the midfield. Spain usually play quite narrow in midfield and these players all have the ability to take the ball in tight areas, create space between the lines and are always rotating and available for passes. Marco Asensio offers something a little different with more direct running and pace. He has been excellent for Real Madrid this season, often coming off the bench and changing games.
The striking options including Morata, Diego Costa and Iago Aspas are all reliable goalscorers for their clubs, even if Morata is struggling a little the second half of the season. It will be up to the manager who he selects, but for me Diego Costa would be the perfect option with the quality of midfielders that can play in behind him.
Dani Carvajal and Jordi Alba are both world class full backs offensively, or they have Cesar Azpilicueta as a more defensive option, and they can rely on the experienced defensive partnership of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos. This is a squad that are serious contenders yet again to replicate the success of 2010 and they have every chance of going all the way.
Star Man - David De Gea has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League for the last six years and is probably the best shot stopper in the world. He makes this Spain team even better and gives confidence to everyone in front of him. He has had to wait on his chance, with Iker Casillas(167caps) and Pepe Reina(36) being regular first and second choice since 2000 and 2005 respectively. Now that De Gea is number 1, he could well win his first senior international trophy after successful European campaigns with the under 21's in 2011 and 2013. At 27 he is the perfect age to be goalkeeper for at least the next 6 years and to get many more caps than his current 27.
Morocco - Managed by Herve Renard, twice winner of the African Nations(Zambia 2012, Ivory Coast 2015), the Atlas Lions come to the WC on the back of a convincing unbeaten qualifying, in a group with Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali. The squad has somewhat of an overhaul the last 4 years which has resulted in their first world cup appearance since 1998. Only two players in the likely squad have over 50 caps, but recent friendly wins over South Korea and Serbia show that they are on the right track as they head to Russia. In a tough group with Portugal and Spain, it will be so important to beat Iran in game 1 to give themselves a platform for advancing out of the groups for only the second time in their history, the only time being in 1986. The Morocco squad is seriously lacking in star quality and will be relying heavily on the guile of their manager and team spirit to get themselves out of the group. Amine Harit at 20 years old is one of the young group of players hoping to make an impression this summer. He has had a solid season for Schalke after moving there from Nantes where he broke through in to the first team in 2016. He is a midfielder with some promise, and having broken into the national setup, could be set for a big role in Russia. Scoring goals could be the big issue for Morocco, Khalid Boutaib was top scorer in qualifying with 4, and he has 12 in the Turkish Super Lig for Yeni Malatyaspor this season. He will likely be the main striker, but it will be far more important for Morocco to be tight at the back, and will be crucial that Juventus central defender Mehdi Benatia is controlling the defense and leading by example as captain. It didn't quite work at Bayern Munich for him, but since returning to Italy, and especially this season, he has looked far more like the strong and athletic defender he was when playing with Roma.
Iran - Although Iran regularly appear at World Cups, this is the first time that they will be competing in successive competitions in their history. They have yet to progress through the group stages, but as the highest ranked team from Asia perhaps they have underachieved in previous tournaments. They topped their qualifying group, beating South Korea in the process and conceding only 2 goals in 10 games. Former Real Madrid manager Carlos Queiroz has been in charge since 2011 and he has built the team on a solid foundation, who rely on clean sheets and counter attack goals. They should in theory be built for tournament play as underdogs, and will be hoping, like Morocco, that a win in game 1 can give them real hope of beating Spain or Portugal to second place in the group. They only scored 10 goals in qualifying, and top scorer Sardar Azmoun, who plays his football at Rubin Kazan in Russia, got 4 of them. He is the main threat up front having scored 23 goals in his 31 appearances so far for Iran, and despite only 4 goals in Russia this season he will be a starter for his country. He is only 23 years old, so has a big future for his country, but has a long way to go to catch the target of 109 goals scored by the legendry, Ali Daei.
Predictions - Obviously Spain and Portugal are firm favourites to qualify from Group B, but with them playing each other first it puts a lot of pressure on whoever loses that game to get results in the other two games. Spain are looking for a far better display after 4 years ago in Brazil, and I expect them to have a good tournament. I think they will be too good for Portugal, and go on to top the group with three wins. Portugal will be under pressure, but the lack of scoring power for Morocco and Iran should mean Ronaldo can drag Portugal through to the last 16 and join Spain.
What to Bet on - Portugal to finish second in the group at 11/10
World Klutz - This time it's back to 2010 in South Africa, to the fixture between Nigeria and South Korea. With a win taking either team through to the last 16 and South Korea leading 2-1, Yakubu was given a guilt edged chance to pull Nigeria back in to the game which they needed to win...
One of the worst misses in World Cup history no doubt. Yakubu went on to score a penalty later in the game, but it was too little too late for Nigeria who were dumped out.