Portugal take on neighbours Spain in the second Group B encounter of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia on Friday. THT looks at three players who could make a huge impact in Sochi.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is upon us. And Day Two will bring us one of the most exciting encounters of the group stages when Iberian rivals Portugal and Spain will go head to head against each other at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi.

Spain, heading into the tournament as one of the favourites, have been rocked by the sacking of Julen Lopetegui from the managerial position on the eve of the World Cup. Led by new manager Fernando Hierro, Sergio Ramos and co. will have to rise above the brouhaha surrounding the team and deliver in their first game.

Portugal, on the other hand, will be confident going into Friday’s encounter despite having registered a single win in their last four games heading into the FIFA World Cup. The reigning European champions performed well in Russia last time out, during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and will be hoping to kick things off with a win.

And here at The Hard Tackle, we bring you the three players to keep an eye out for in the first high-profile game from the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Nothing but victory on Ronaldo's mind (Photo: FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Nothing but victory on Ronaldo’s mind (Photo courtesy: Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty Images)

No matter where he’s playing, no matter against whom, the spotlight is always on Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese captain will be carrying the entire nation’s hopes on his shoulders in Russia and will be hoping to kick things off in the tournament with a strong performance against Spain.

The 33-year old is coming on the back of another excellent campaign with Real Madrid, having won his fifth UEFA Champions League and will have his eyes firmly set on the one trophy that is still missing from his cabinet. Ronaldo did not feature in any of Portugal’s pre-tournament friendlies, but will no doubt, be a part of Fernando Santos’ starting line-up on Friday.

The desire, the determination and the drive that he has, despite everything that he has achieved in the game, is sure to rub off on his teammates in a big way. And add to that, his killer instincts in front of goal, his form heading into the competition and the hunger to succeed will make him a dangerous prospect for Spain.

Sergio Ramos

Can Sergio Ramos lead Spain to success against Portugal? (Photo: CARMELO RUBIO / POOL / AFP)
Can Sergio Ramos lead Spain to success against Portugal? (Photo: CARMELO RUBIO / POOL / AFP)

Controversial he may be, but there is no taking away the fact that Spain captain Sergio Ramos is a serial winner and a proven champion. The 32-year old had been at the centre of La Furia Roja’s immense success under Vicente Del Bosque between 2008 and 2012, that saw them lift two UEFA Euro titles and the 2010 FIFA World Cup as well.

And having led his club, Real Madrid, to three consecutive UEFA Champions League titles, Ramos will be hoping to channel his form and the leadership qualities to help Spain go a long way in Russia.

Given the turmoil that the upheaval of the managerial situation has created, it will be the captain’s job to hold the team together, make sure the motivation levels don’t drop and the focus is not lost from their ultimate goal.

At the same time, he will also need to be at the top of his game, as he gears up to face his club teammate and Portugal’s talisman Ronaldo. Alongside Gerard Pique, the 32-year old will be key to keeping the Portuguese attack at bay on Friday.

Goncalo Guedes

Portugal's man in form, Goncalo Guedes (Photo: Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
Portugal’s man in form, Goncalo Guedes (Photo: Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)

One of the most promising young talents in the tournament, Portugal’s 21-year old rising star Goncalo Guedes will definitely be worth keeping an eye out for, when they start things off against Spain in Sochi.

The attacking midfielder had a brilliant season away on loan with La Liga outfit Valencia from Paris Saint-Germain, during which he went on to score 6 goals and set up 11 more in all competitions. The former Benfica starlet has carried that form over to the international stages as well, as he netted twice in the Seleccao’s 3-0 win over Algerian in their final pre-tournament friendly.

Guedes’ versatile nature, his ability to exploit spaces between the lines along with the guile and creativity that he brings to the table, makes him a huge threat in the final third. Likely to be deployed in a free role just behind Ronaldo, the 21-year old possesses the quality to pose some serious problems to the Spain defence.

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