What began as a summer of promise and deserved hype entering the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia has now spiraled into one of chaos and uncertainly for Spain. Mere hours before the start of the World Cup, Spain has sacked Julen Lopetegui as manager after news broke Tuesday that he would take the helm at Real Madrid.
Now, the Spanish FA has named former Real Madrid club legend Fernando Hierro as manager with their Group B matchup vs Portugal slated to kick off Friday in Sochi.
The sudden change certainly does not bode well for Spain but there is still so much talent and pedigree in the side, but Hierro’s management resume does not instill a ton of confidence.
Hierro most recently managed Segunda División side Real Oviedo in 2016-17 but the club finished eighth in the table, missing out on the promotion playoff, which led to a mutual parting of ways in June of 2017.
As for the national side, Spain was extremely disappointing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as it failed to get out of the group stage and was almost as underwhelming at Euro 2016 after losing 2-0 to Italy in the Round of 16.
The decorated Vicente del Bosque stepped away from his duties after France 2016 and made way for Lopetegui, formerly of Portuguese giants Porto and the U21 Spain side. The 51-year-old Basque was untested in major international tournaments at the senior level but won 11 of 11 matches in charge of Spain’s U21s from 2012 to 2014.
Despite the turmoil, a great mix of talent young and old is set to descend on Russia and the side still has the ability to make a deep run this summer but the timing and appointment doesn’t instill a ton of confidence and those holding Spain futures tickets will be miffed.
Spain’s odds to win World Cup: +650
Online shop Sportsbook is offering Spain at +600 to win the 2018 World Cup, placing them third on the oddsboard behind only Brazil (+400) and Germany (+475) even after the coaching move.
The likes of Sergio Ramos, Andrés Iniesta, David Silva, David de Gea, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Piqué will be patrolling pitches in Russia and that is a pretty great starting point. Throw in the next generation of Spanish football like Isco, Marco Asensio and Saúl and you’ve still got world-class stars ready to carry the La Roja torch.
Winning the World Cup is clearly no easy feat, but a group that should be easy to qualify from (more on that in a second) and a potentially winnable Round of 16 matchup – should they win Group B – makes their early fixtures in the tournament very favorable.
Full odds to win the 2018 World Cup
Spain’s Odds to win Group B: -175
Spain is in a very top-heavy group with only Portugal appearing to pose any sort of threat. The other two sides, Morocco and Iran, are certainly winnable fixtures so a six-point haul from this group stage is the absolute minimum that Hierro and crew will expect.
As stated, however, this is a team that was ousted from the group stage after getting thumped by the Netherlands 5-1 and losing 2-0 to Chile in Brazil 2014. Oh, and neither of those teams made it to Russia 2018, so there’s that.
The fixture that will tell us everything is the clash with Portugal on June 15. This is certainly a candidate for a draw, but Spain has won four of the previous five meetings with its Iberian neighbor with the other result being a draw. I can’t help but feel like the Spain – and Hierro – opener will be a conservative affair.
Full World Cup group odds
Spain’s Best World Cup Bets
There are plenty of intriguing betting options out there for Spain: Diego Costa is +2500 to be the top goalscorer and they are +130 to reach the semifinal, for example. You’ll find plenty of great options following La Roja for the summer.
As stated, the opener against Portugal is going to be their trickiest group stage matchup, but one of the better bets as it stands right now is a parlay for their other two Group B matches.
Sure, you can bet each game on its own but with Spain currently around -450 for their second game against Iran and -260 for their finale against Morocco, I quite like a parlay here.
Well, I certainly liked it a lot more before the coaching change.
It’s still chalky but considering the potential for a draw against Portugal to start things and with longer odds on tournament props carrying risk, a tidy $100 wager will net you a unit and a half (or thereabouts) including stake.
Not the sexiest pick by any stretch, but this feels like a good way to inflate the bankroll a bit in the group stage.
Still, let’s see how Hierro and the veterans on this side perform against Portugal on Friday.
Spain’s Player to watch: Isco
With Spain’s dominance on the global stage going through somewhat of a rebuild, Isco looks to be the “next one” in a revolving door of midfielders that has seen the likes of Xavi and Iniesta dominate throughout the years.
Real Madrid’s diminutive magician will look to put his stamp on the senior squad at the World Cup and he has the talent, acumen and technique to be one of the tournament’s best players.
If Spain is to make a deep run in Russia, several players will have to really make their presence felt: de Gea between the sticks, Silva, Piqué, etc., but Isco could be the one pulling the strings in the middle of the park and ceremoniously taking the reins from the great Andrés Iniesta.
With odds of +2500 to win the Golden Ball (for the World Cup’s best player), Isco is a very reasonable bet in this market. He’s been capped 28 times but has 10 goals already, more than striker Costa (seven).
In eight games played during Spain’s World Cup qualification campaign, Isco bagged five goals and dished out a pair of assists and was at the peak of his powers in a 3-0 masterclass against Italy.
Spain’s Road to Russia
Spain won nine games and drew one in 10 Group G matches to get here, scoring a whopping 36 goals (only Germany and Belgium scored more in UEFA) and conceding just three times. Now, take those numbers with a grain of salt since UEFA groups always feature minnows like Liechtenstein but it was a great path to the World Cup nonetheless.
Italy’s qualification troubles were well documented (it’s a shame the Azzurri aren’t here) but you can’t argue the results. Spain had a job to do, especially after the disappointing results in 2014 and Euro 2016, and they got it done.
There’s some questions entering the tournament now with the new manager and some new faces in the XI, but don’t expect Spain to fizzle out like they did in Brazil. The +650 odds are justified here based on squad strength alone, but I have to question the antics of the FA surrounding Lopetegui and the appointment of Hierro.
This preview was originally published on May 11 but was updated on June 13.
|1||David de Gea||GK||Manchester United||29|
|13||Kepa Arrizabalaga||GK||Athletic Bilbao||1|
|15||Sergio Ramos||DEF||Real Madrid||152|
|2||Dani Carvajal||DEF||Real Madrid||15|
|12||Álvaro Odriozola||DEF||Real Sociedad||4|
|21||David Silva||MID||Manchester City||121|
|20||Marco Asensio||MID||Real Madrid||12|
|7||Saúl Ñiguez||MID||Atlético Madrid||10|
|19||Diego Costa||FWD||Atlético Madrid||20|
|17||Iago Aspas||FWD||Celta Vigo||10|
|11||Lucas Vázquez||FWD||Real Madrid||7|