And there it is: Portugal, Iran and Morocco will be Spain’s opponents in the group stage at the 2018 World Cup. It looks good on paper because, Portugal aside, it doesn’t seem easy for Morocco and even less so for Iran to sneak into a qualifying place ahead of Spain. We start our campaign against Portugal, on day two of the World Cup. Facing Portugal first was the only thing that did not convince former La Roja keeper Santiago Cañizares, who noted on Spanish radio that Spain rarely perform well in the opening game, and he knows the score. The first game starts from the moment the draw ends, nerves are accumulated for several months and the players’ minds are centred on it. Only after the opening game has been played do teams really get going in their World Cups. It is true that this has been the case with Spain in the past. Will it be the same for Portugal?
But we can feel well treated by the draw, although not as much so as Russia. People will say that it will have suited Vladimir Putin down to the ground but I do not believe there was any foul play in the draw. There were a lot of people present, and a lot of celebrated guests. I cannot see a conspiracy, although there will be plenty of people who do. And more so in view of how Putin marked his territory, appearing at the ceremony unexpectedly, without first having confirmed his attendance in advance and insisting on a speaking part on the podium. Russia’s group is a good one for the hosts, and so is ours. We start out in Sochi, very near Krasnodar, which Julen Lopetegui has selected as the team’s base, meaning travel to the game the day before. Further afield, in Kazan and Kaliningrad, Spain will play their remaining group games. The dates are June 15, 20 and 25.
And so we will hope to go through to the knock-out phase without too much trouble and then will be the cross-over with the group containing Russia and Uruguay, talking of favourites. That is not such a positive panorama for me because playing the host nation is always a risky business. Spanish sports journalist Axel Torres said on the radio that recently it hasn’t been so much the case and provided examples from the last few European Championships and World Cups but I still have a sense of mistrust. It would be better, if possible, for someone else to face the hosts. From there, we will have to see what luck dictates. Spain’s side of the draw is slightly better, because we won’t come up against Brazil or Germany until the last four. But the best news of all is the way Lopetegui’s side are playing leading up to the tournament.