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Spain's Lopetegui: Group B draw will demand the best of us

Sid Lowe explains why Spain are content with drawing Portugal in Group B and evaluates their chances of winning the World Cup.
The ESPN FC panel break down Group B where they feel Portugal and Spain are favourites over Morocco and Iran.

Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has a lot of admiration for the three countries his team will face in the group stages of the World Cup.

The 2010 World Cup winners, Spain have been placed in Group B with European defending champions Portugal, Morocco and Iran in Friday's draw in Moscow.

Spain qualified for next year's tournament after finishing top of their group, five points clear of Italy. Lopetegui's side won nine of their 10 games and went unbeaten in qualifying.

"Without a doubt, we have a hard, difficult group," Lopetegui told the federation's website. "This is a World Cup. Portugal are a great team, Morocco have not lost a game in qualifying. Iran were the first team to qualify for the World Cup. They are going to demand the best of us."

Spain will play their first game on June 15 against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi.

La Roja have overcome their Iberian neighbours in their past two meetings in major competitions and have gone on to win the title after those encounters. The last time they met, Spain beat Portugal on penalties at Euro 2012.

"They are a good side," Lopetegui said. "Portugal are the current European champions, they have players of a very high level. The past figures and results don't serve us. What interests us is to play a great game and be able to beat them."

Portugal are the top seeded team in the group by virtue of their FIFA ranking, but coach Fernando Santos admitted Spain would be favoured to top the group.

"It's a very deceptive and treacherous group," he said. "Portugal have to accept that we are one of the favourites but if you look in a bit more detail, you can see it's very difficult. Spain are naturally favourites, as I've always said.

"It's not the first time I say this and I'm not saying it now because we are going to face them. I've always said they are one of the favorites to [win] the World Cup and Portugal have to do what they have to do, which is to try to win each game."

Spain breezed through their qualifying group undefeated.

Santos, at the helm of Portugal since 2014, said of the draw: "Portugal have to assume their part of responsibility and favoritism when it is placed in a group like this one.

"But the reality is that it's very difficult because the fact that they consider us favorites to go through to the next round alongside Spain it's not something that benefits us, on the contrary, it favors our rivals because it loads us with more responsibility.

"In one way, facing Spain in the first game could mark the way the group evolves and the rest of the tournament."

Spain will take on Iran for the first time in major competition, a team coached by Portuguese tactician Carlos Queiroz, on June 20 at the Kazan Arena.

"They haven't given away a goal in qualifying," Lopetegui said. "They've got a coach that has been with them a long time and they are going to demand a lot from us."

Queiroz said he was pleased to face some familiar teams.

"Personally, I'm happy because Spain and Portugal are two very special teams for me," he said. "For Iran, it's going to be really tough... the most important thing is to play with ambition and leave the World Cup honourably."

Spain finish the group stages on June 25 at the Kaliningrad Stadium against Morocco, a side they have not faced in any competition since beating them twice to qualify for the 1962 World Cup.

"The majority of their players compete in Europe," Lopetegui said. "They haven't lost in qualifying. They have interesting players and are well coached. It's a team with continuity and they have qualified in style."

Morocco coach Herve Renard set his sights on their opener against Iran as a potential difference-maker in his team's campaign. 

"Our first match against Iran will be decisive... It looks difficult on paper but nothing is impossible in football. We have to believe in ourselves and continue with the same dynamic... it's going to be marvellous."

Portugal won nine and lost one of their 10 qualifying games to top Group B and qualify for the World Cup, while Spain, Iran and Morocco went unbeaten.

Santos has plenty of respect for Iran and Morocco, saying: "They are two good national teams. The Asian and African sides have a lot of pride and I'm certain they will be very difficult opponents. Of course they have a chance.

"The World Cup is a competition in which you cannot make mistakes, they have less to lose than we do and that is what makes them more dangerous."

Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.

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