Group B ended up being very close to the Group of Death, as Iran almost toppled Portugal to go through. But the upset was averted as both European favourites got one point from their last matches to claim the top two spots from this group.
Spain vs Morocco key events:
Spain XI (4-2-3-1): David De Gea; Daniel Carvajal, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba; Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara (Marco Asensio, 74′); David Silva (Rodrigo, 84′), Andres Iniesta, Isco; Diego Costa (Iago Aspas, 74′).
Morocco XI (4-2-3-1): Munir Mohamedi; Nabil Dirar, Manuel da Costa, Romain Saiss, Achraf Hakimi; Karim El Ahmadi, Moubarak Boussoufa; Nordin Amrabat, Younes Belhanda (Fayçal Fajr, 63′), Hakim Ziyech (Aziz Bouhaddouz, 85′); Khalid Boutaib (Youssef En-Nesyri, 71′).
Goals: Boutaib (14′), Isco (19′), En-Nesyri (81′), Aspas (90’+1′).
Yellow card: El Ahmadi (21′), Amrabat (29′), da Costa (31′), Boussoufa (31′), Munir (89′), Hakimi (90’+4′).
The favourites, as expected, started to maintain more possession on the ball but it was Morocco who drew the first blood. Boutaib pounced on a mistake from Ramos and then it was an easy task for him to get the ball past De Gea. However, the happiness did not last long for the Africans. After some brilliant display in the middle, Iniesta got the ball on the left. He then cut it back from the byline on the path of Isco, who made no mistake to hit the back of the nets from a close range.
Following the Isco goal, Spain started dominating the game by and large. Moroccan players started to play tough and as many as four yellow cards were flashed soon. Iniesta in particular was brilliant and troubled the opponent defense time and again. Yet, Costa and co failed to convert the chances and the two teams went into the break, tied at 1-1.
In the second half, Iniesta and Isco started from where they left in the first. The two attacking midfielders were on song for most of the match and they created opportunities, one after another. At 62nd minute, a goalline save from Morocco kept the score level, while the next minute, another Spanish effort went inches wide of the target.
A few minutes later, the underdogs restored their lead again! This time, it was a well-timed corner from substitute Fajr which was netted beautifully by another substitute, En-Nesyri. Spain were at the risk of losing their tie, with only about 10 minutes to go. But, the heavyweights did not make a mess. Substitute forward Aspas raced onto a low pass from Carvajal and then flicked it into the nets. This goal from the former Liverpool star helped Spain draw 2-2 against Morocco and ensured their top spot in Group B.
Spain vs Morocco highlights:
Let us now see what happened in the other match.
Iran vs Portugal key events:
Iran XI (4-5-1): Alireza Beiranvand; Ehsan HajSafi (Milad Mohammadi, 56′), Majid Hosseini, Morteza Pouraliganji, Ramin Rezaeian; Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Saman Ghoddos, 70′), Mehdi Taremi, Vahid Amiri, Saeid Ezatolahi (Karim Ansarifard, 76′), Omid Ebrahimi; Sardar Azmoun.
Portugal XI (4-4-2): Rui Patricio; Cedric Soares, Raphael Guerreiro, Pepe, Jose Fonte; Joao Mario (Joao Moutinho, 84′), Adrien Silva, Ricardo Quaresma (Bernardo Silva, 70′), William Carvalho; Andre Silva (Goncalo Guedes, 90’+6′), Cristiano Ronaldo.
Goals: Quaresma (45′), Ansarifard (Pen, 90’+3′).
Yellow card: Guerreiro (33′), Hajsafi (52′), Azmoun (54′), Quaresma (64′), Ronaldo (83′), Soares (90’+8′).
Portugal almost got their first break few minutes into the game, but Mario failed to capitalize on a confusion between two Iran players. For the most parts of the first half, the defending European champions controlled the game, enjoying nearly 80% possession. But, a breakthrough was hard to come by.
Iran also tested Patricio on a couple of occasions around the half-hour mark. And then, at the dying moments of the first half, Quaresma did something spectacular. Getting a ball from Adrien, the experienced Portugal winger sent the ball home with a fabulous strike. That one put Portugal 1-0 up just before the break.
Beginning of the second half was eventful in this game. Seven minutes after the restart, Ronaldo earned a penalty for his side. But, the skipper failed to convert it as Beiranvand made a stunning save. On either side of the penalty, two Iran players were booked as well.
It continued to be end-to-end affair for quite some time after the penalty incident. Both sides played tough as well, and whistles blew everywhere. In one such incident, the Portuguese captain was lucky to escape the red card as he elbowed an Iranian defender without the ball.
But drama was yet to unfold there. In the stoppage time, Cedric’s handball needed video assistance from the referee to point to the penalty spot. This time, the Iran substitute did not make any mistake like Ronaldo. The ball hit the top of the goal and the match was 1-1. Moments later, Taremi got an amazing opportunity to take Iran through to the next round, but he ended up side-netting it and eventually, Portugal managed to go to the Round of 16.
Portugal will face Uruguay on June 30, while Spain will take on Russia the next day.
Iran vs Portugal highlights: