Predicted order of finish: Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Iran.
Outlook: There is no greater divide between the perceived top two and bottom two teams than here. Spain, Portugal … and who else? With all due respect to Morocco and Iran, the Iberian titans will enter the competition as heavy favorites to reach the next round. The only lingering question, it seems, is the order in which they’ll traverse.
But Spain is dealing with major chaos. National team coach Julen Lopetegui was fired Wednesday after he accepted a job Tuesday to coach Real Madrid next season without letting federation officials know in advance.
Spain roared through a soft qualifying group with nine victories, a draw and a plus-33 scoring differential in 10 matches, the only blemish coming at Italy. Four players scored five goals apiece. In March, the world took notice of Spain’s growing capacity this summer by blasting Argentina 6-1.
After clashing in La Liga, a dozen players from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will make up more than half the squad. Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, David Silva, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba will attempt to raise one more major trophy before time catches up to them. David de Gea (Manchester United) is among the sport’s best goalkeepers.
The Spaniards are familiar with Portugal’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, who has powered Real Madrid to four of the past five Champions League titles. In the middle of club supremacy, Ronaldo two summers ago also helped Portugal win its first European championship — an international breakthrough that could carry over to the World Cup. For that to occur, Ronaldo will need help from Euro heroes like Pepe, Rui Patricio and Raphael Guerreiro.
Spain’s goalkeeper, David de Gea, is considered among the world’s best.