Santos’ teams are extremely hard to break down – Portugal didn’t conceded just one goal in four knockout games at the Euros – and completely bought in. They’re not going to blow teams away in Russia, but they’ll be an awfully tough out.
Julen Lopetegui, Spain
Lopetegui tasked himself with adding a pressing element to Spain’s measured, possession-based style after taking over from Vicente Del Bosque after Euro 2016, and the results in qualifying were excellent – a 3-0 dusting of Italy at the Santiago Bernabeau serving as a pièce de résistance.
Lopetegui cut his teeth coaching youth football, both with Real Madrid’s B team and the Spanish U19s, 20s, and 21s, and he’s also made a point of injecting youth into the team while maintaining its experience core.
It’s been a balancing act, but Spain appears poised to contend in a way they weren’t at the last two major tournaments.
Hervé Renard, Morocco
There are few more successful coaches in the history of African football than Renard, who is the only coach to win the African Cup of Nations with two different countries – Zambia in 2012, and the Ivory Coast in 2015.
Now, Renard is taking Morocco to the World Cup for the first time since 1998. His team was airtight defensively in qualifying, and they work extremely hard for one another. That, along with Renard’s track record in knockout competition, should have Spain and Portugal ever so slightly worried.
Carlos Queiroz, Iran
A failure with Real Madrid and Portugal, Queiroz has found new life as manager of Iran. He’s been in charge of Team Melli since 2011, and has gained considerable acclaim for qualifying them for consecutive World Cups.
Queiroz is colorful – he dared the Iranian FA to fire him in December, has clashed with opposing coaches, and criticized Iran’s preparation – but his team, while short on talent, is well organized and confident. He’ll have them up for the Portugal game in particular.
Didier Deschamps, France
Deschamps survived his team’s upset loss in the final of Euro 2016, and his reward has been the opportunity to continue his work with France’s most talented generation since the one he captained to the World Cup title on home soil in 1998.