The 2018 World Cup draw last Friday put Portugal in a group rich in historic and sporting symbolism.
Looking at the first game, nuestros hermanos face each other in a match that promises to decide first and second place in Group B.
In theory Spain are favourite, but can Portugal recreate Aljubarrota’s history and win with less means? In that time – 14 August 1385 – as happens nowadays, Portugal had less means but was able to surprise the Spanish by the strategy used. We have to wait seven months to know if the same can happen again, but for sure is not going to be with a shovel (according to the legend) that this time Portugal may surpass Spain.
In terms of football rivalries, these two national teams have only faced each other once, in the 2010 World Cup. Spain won 1-0 against a Portugal commanded by Alex Ferguson’s former assistant and Real Madrid manager Carlos Queiroz – he also plays a role in this group, as I will explain below.
Before talking about Queiroz, it’s important to remember this match is also special for the Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui, former Porto manager. Porto fans don’t have good memories of those times and would be a good sign for him if they continue to not like him after the World Cup.
After the Spanish, Portugal will face other neighbours: Morocco. The symbolism here is also worthy of registration. The first time Portugal and Morocco had problems, in the 8th century, football had yet to be invented. Muslims invaded most of the territory known as Peninsula Iberia – what is now Spain and Portugal – but later the Portuguese answer in the same way by occupying African countries, starting with Morocco.
But in World Cups the memories are not good for the European champions: the only time they faced each other, in Mexico 86, Morocco won 3-1. A World Cup that represented one of the darkness moments of sport’s Portuguese history. At the time Portuguese players threatened to strike if their match fees were not improved, and also as way of protesting against the fact they were forced to do advertise for Adidas and Nike without being paid. Furthermore, some players trained with the sweater inside-out to avoid making money for the federation. The fallout was huge, and even after the World Cup, some players were considered illegible to play for Portugal.
The last opponent in the Group stage is Iran, and here the symbolism is purely sporting. Mainly because Carlos Queiroz is now on the other side. So it is not difficult to understand how special this World cup is going to be for both Portugal and Queiroz.
About the head to head, Portugal and Iran played just one time, with Portugal winning 2-0 at the 2006 World Cup. This World Cup was a good memory, as Portugal equalled their best result in their history, losing in the semi-final against France.
I am sure Portugal would be happy if they were to achieve the same result next summer in Russia.