FIFA World Cup

Fifa World Cup, Group B: Spain and Portugal likely to progress, but don’t count Iran out

The clash of the Iberian neighbours could decide group B’s topper.

(At the time of publishing, Julen Lopetegui was the head coach of the Spanish national team. He has since been sacked by the Royal Spanish Football Federation. The story has since been updated.)

This group might well feature the tie of the round as Portugal and Spain clash on 15th June. The reigning European champions will clash with their predecessors and the victor could very well top Group B.

Iran are Asian heavyweights but have floundered at the world level. Team Melli will look to earn maximum points against Morocco. The Africans will benefit from Mehdi Benatia and Herve Renard’s experience and will look to do more than just make up the numbers.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, and Iran

Spain

La Roja will be desperate to banish the memories of 2014 in Rio where, as defending champions, they crashed out in the group stages, suffering a humiliating 5-1 loss to Louis Van Gaal’s Netherlands.

Spain’s pedigree is unquestionable, as they won three major tournaments in the space of four years from 2008 to 2012, but a transition phase has seen them weakened. Attempting to build a World Cup winning squad, Julen Lopetegui had opted for the services of powerful forward Diego Costa over the hot-and-cold Alvaro Morata.

Thirteen of the 23-man squad come from the big three in Spain, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona as they swept their way to Group G in qualifying, finishing ahead of Italy without losing a single match.

They should win this group, ahead of European champions Portugal.

Update:

The Spanish federation chief Luis Rubiales confirmed on Wednesday that newly announced Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui had been sacked two days before Spain’s opener against Portugal, following the abrupt announcement by the 13-time European Cup/Champions League winners left the authorities in the dark. It remains to be seen how this abrupt change in head coach and the incoming boss will affect Spain’s hopes of winning a second World Cup.

Key Player: David Silva

Image courtesy: AFP
Image courtesy: AFP

Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta are the two most capped players in the squad with 152 and 127 appearances to their name, but David Silva with 121 caps isn’t far behind. He has been deployed in a deeper role at club level by Pep Guardiola, but the Manchester City man has flourished. At 32, he still looks like he has a few years left in him. Spain’s midfield is power packed, but Silva is the locksmith and the magician.

World Cup record:

Spain have qualified for the World Cup 15 times and have won the title once in 2010. They beat Netherlands 1-0 in extra time in the final, via Andres Iniesta’s 116th-minute goal.

Prediction:

Spain should top this group, but they’ll be keen to avoid slipping up in their opening game against Portugal. Seven points should be a minimum for the 2010 champions.

Portugal

The 2016 European champions are into their seventh World Cup finals and will be hoping to build on their continental triumph as they seek to reach their first World Cup summit clash.

Qualify from this group and they will face one of Russia, Uruguay, Egypt or Saudi Arabia, and this will give the Iberians confidence that a quarter-final run should be the bare minimum return from Russia.

Goncalo Guedes had a good season at Valencia and the forward will be confident of replicating his display at the World Cup, given that Bernardo Silva, Joao Moutinho and Cristiano Ronaldo will bring the firepower. Similar to the side that triumphed in France, Portugal have always proved themselves as plucky outsiders. An ageing defence of Bruno Alves (36), Pepe (35) and Jose Fonte (34) will struggle against quicker sides.

Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

Image courtesy: AFP
Image courtesy: AFP

Thirty-three and still going strong, with a third straight Champions League medal to his name, the Portuguese captain has never set the World stage alight and will be looking to right that statistic this time around.

His season started slowly with only two goals in his first 10 league games, but come the business end of the season, Ronaldo came to the fore and finished strong. With 81 goals in 150 games, he is also the side’s most experienced player and in what could be his last World Cup, will look to bow out on a high.

World Cup record:

Seventh World Cup appearance but Portugal have ruffled some feathers in the past, starting with Eusebio’s team back in 1966, which finished third. Lost a tight semi-final 1-0 to France in 2006. Fifth straight tournament but failed to clear the group stages at Brazil 2014.

Prediction:

They should finish second in the group, but that could mean a potential tie against Uruguay in the Round of 16, something that Fernando Santos’s men will be desperate to avoid by finishing top.

Iran

In any other group, Iran would have fancied a small chance of progression but the presence of European heavyweights Spain and Portugal complicates matters for Carlos Queiroz’s men.

The three-time Asian champions have struggled to get past the first round in their previous four appearances and it might be a repeat in Russia. Twelve of the 23 are based in Europe and the squad is relatively, on the younger side, with only five players aged 30 or above.

There are many exciting talents in this team, with the likes of Ostersund’s Saman Ghoddos, Reza Ghoochannejhad and the fleet-footed Sardar Azmoun looking to push the team ahead. The game against Morocco is a must-win one.

Key Player: Sardar Azmoun

Image courtesy: AFP
Image courtesy: AFP

The Rubin Kazan forward has been referred to by many names: the Iranian Messi, a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the successor to the legendary Ali Daei himself. His goals per games ratio for the national team is incredible and, with 23 strikes in 33 games, he has already established himself as Iran’s fifth-highest goalscorer. Having only debuted in 2014, 11 strikes in World Cup qualification have also seen him as the current squad’s top marksman with no one else bagging more than 17 in Iran colours.

World Cup record:

They have participated in four previous World Cups but have only ever won one match at the finals, a 2-1 win over the United States in 1998. Their second straight tournament under Queiroz, they earned a clean sheet against Nigeria last time before holding Argentina for close to 90 minutes. Lionel Messi had popped up with the winning goal.

Prediction:

Iran are likely to finish third in the group, but a win against Morocco in their opener and a point against either Spain or Portugal could see them in the mix for a Round of 16 spot. Still, it would require a considerable effort from them to make it past the Iberian duo.

Morocco

The Atlas Lions finished top of Group C in World Cup qualification, and will be participating in football’s showpiece tournament after a gap of 20 years. On their way, they knocked out African heavyweights Ivory Coast and Mali, but Herve Renard’s squad is easily the lowest seeds in this group.

Achraf Hakimi, Nabil Dirar and Mehdi Benatia will bring the defensive strength to this side but the attack will have Renard worried. Only Ayoub El Kaabi has more than ten goals to his name as the Africans are one of the most inexperienced squads in this World Cup. Defensive solidity is the platform on which any further progression will have to be based on, with Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech set to provide the creative spark in attack.

Key Player: Mehdi Benatia

Image courtesy: AFP
Image courtesy: AFP

The team’s wall and its most high-profile player, Juventus centre-back Mehdi Benatia will look to shepherd the Africans’ defence against the might of Spain and Portugal. Boasting an impressive list of his clubs on his resume, Roma and Bayern Munich included, Benatia also scored the winner against Ivory Coast in November 2017 to send Morocco through to the World Cup finals.

World Cup Record:

Morocco stunned the world in 1986, when they topped a group containing England, Poland and Portugal, but were drawn against eventual runners-up West Germany in the next round. That remains their best result till date, and they narrowly missed out on a knockout berth in their last appearance in 1998, finishing below Brazil and Norway in their group.

Prediction:

The Maghreb warriors from North Africa should struggle in Russia, although Renard’s tactical nous and a couple of clean sheets could push them into the reckoning. Very little between them and Iran, and the opening match between these two will be an intriguing one.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.