Spain, Portugal target last 16 as Russia ride momentum
MOSCOW: World Cup heavyweights Spain and Portugal can lock down spots in the last 16 on Monday, as hosts Russia ride a wave of national euphoria into their clash with Uruguay.
Spain crashed out in spectacular fashion in the group stage four years ago in Brazil, but the 2010 champions are on course to reach the knockout phase in Russia despite sacking their coach on the eve of the tournament.
They require a point against Morocco in Kaliningrad to secure qualification, and new coach Fernando Hierro promised they would not underestimate a North African side playing for pride.
“We can’t afford to relax… We need to be awake with our eyes open and be aware that Morocco aren’t going to give anything away,” warned Hierro, who replaced Julen Lopetegui a day before the tournament started.
Portugal meet former coach Carlos Queiroz and Iran in their final Group B game in Saransk. Cristiano Ronaldo’s side will advance with a draw, but a win for Iran would see the European champions or Spain suffer a shock exit.
“Both teams have something to win and also to lose, neither has more to win than the other,” said Portugal boss Fernando Santos.
In Group A, Russia will bid for a third straight win after a stunning start to the tournament for a side initially written off as no-hopers.
Stanislav Cherchesov said he would stick with the same line-up that beat Egypt 3-1 as Russia lock horns with Uruguay in Samara, with first place on the line.
“We don’t choose our opponent in the last 16. We’re not doing the calculations, we’ve never done them,” said Cherchesov.
“And in any case we don’t have the choice, they play after us. We know both teams, the football gods will decide.”