World Cup: Spain and Portugal face off in Sochi

World Today

It is one of the oldest rivalries in football: Spain and Portugal. The teams meet on the pitch Friday in Sochi. Spain won the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, but Portugal is the defending European champion.

CGTN’s Al Goodman sizes up the teams for us.

It’s a question of two football rivals. There’s Portugal, led by its Real Madrid star forward, Cristiano Ronaldo, and its neighbor, Spain. They’re two great football countries, hungry for more glory.

Spain has already won the World Cup once, and Portugal is the reigning European football champion. The two giants will meet in their first match of the Group Stage.

Team Spain

Spain’s coach Fernando Hierro (C) talks to his team players during a training session at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi on June 14, 2018, on the eve of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Portugal and Spain. (AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS)

Spain won the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, and many in Madrid think the rebuilt team has a good chance again. Although the sudden sacking of manager Julen Lopetegui, after the surprise news he’s been hired as Real Madrid’s new manager, is causing concern.

“What he changed is the mentality in the sense that he has to renew the illusion, to renew the will to win in the players. Because they were not successful in the last World Cup,” Sportswriter Juan Castro of Spain’s Marca newspaper.

Castro said younger, attacking players now have bigger roles, backed by a veteran defense.

Team Portugal

Portugal’s forwards Cristiano Ronaldo (R), midfielders Bernardo Silva (C) and Goncalo Guedes attend a training session of Portugal’s national football team at their base camp in Kratovo, outskirts of Moscow, on June 10, 2018, ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup. (AFP PHOTO / Francisco LEONG)

In Lisbon, many see Portugal as right on track, capable of bringing home more awards. Portugal’s victory in the Euro 2016 tournament was its first international football trophy. Now the country thinks it’s time for a second one, in the World Cup.

Portugal also has rising young stars who’ve diversified the team, said Lisbon sportswriter Marco Vaza of Portugal’s Publico newspaper. Even so, Cristiano Ronaldo looms large.

“I still think that much of Portugal’s chances will rely on whether he’s in good shape or not in Russia,” Vaza said.

Charles Boehm discusses Russia’s role in the 2018 World Cup

CGTN’s Mike Walter spoke to Charles Boehm for insight into Russia’s role as host in the 2018 World Cup. Boehm is a writer based in Washington, D.C. who covers American soccer.