Onto Group B in this World Cup series, a group that has been described as a 50/50 group, with two huge nations, and two smaller ones. Is it the same when we look at their metal scenes? Let's find out.
We first saw Iran in the last World Cup, and while they did not really impress at all back then, they have gained some much needed experience that could be useful in this year's competition. With the core of the squad returning, this team will not be beaten all that easily thanks to a rock solid defense, and a strong will. I will certainly keep an eye on the talented striker Sardar Azmoun, and as a Swede, I will definitely root for the Östersund player Saman Ghoddos to make a good impression.
Just like any other Arabian country, the sample size of metal bands are not that big. There is still a good amount of progressive bands here though, like Mordab, Kahtmayan, and Explode. None of them might be in the class of what we are used to, but still some nice attempts. There is obviously a good amount of other genres represented, like death/thrash band Arsames and black metal band Ekove Efrits, but none seemed to really peak my interest. It is a good step on the way for the country, but they do have some way to go.
Seems like a lot of people have hyped up this team, and looking back at their qualifying, I cannot blame them. Morocco did not allow a single goal to be conceded throughout the qualifying rounds, so be sure that the defense will be tough to get through. This is a more technical team though, with a huge majority of the players being born in Europe, they have been thought football from the best academies. With interesting players like Benatia, Belhanda, and Ziyech, there is certainly a lot of positive vibes for this African team.
Well, I wished I could say the same about the metal scene though. I guess they might have a underground scene that might be growing, but nothing that has shown its ugly face so far for us. With only 22 entries in Encyclopaedia Metallum, Morocco is one of the poorest countries in this category. The only band that seem to have some sort of a career is the symphonic band Analgesia, and the nicest thing I can say about them is that they are a very poor man's version of Nightwish. Sorry, was not much to be found here.
So Portugal are the reigning European champions and are going to try to accomplish what Spain did 8 years ago, follow it up by winning the World Cup as well. It is gonna be tough though, because their team consists of mega star Cristiano Ronaldo, and 22 other guys. In a way, they are like the Dream Theater greatest hit album of the World Cup, the other players are by no means bad, but it feels like no one is even close to where Ronaldo stands, which could hurt them in the end. They can absolutely win it all, but they might crash and burn as well if they have the same start as in the Euros two years ago (they ended third in the group and was lucky to even get through).
The question is though, which band is the equivalent to Ronaldo? The clear answer here is Moonspell, a band that has been in the game for almost 30 years, starting out as a black metal band, but has changed its sound multiple times, to folk, to gothic, and even a bit symphonic as well. It is a band that is just oozing of great quality, which their last two albums "Extinct" and "1755" are a great indication to. A masterful band who knows how to entertain their fans.
While no other band is at the same level as Moonspell, we do have a good bunch of nice doom bands, like Process of Guilt, Before The Rain, and Painted Black. Then we have Heavenwood, another gothic band that has created some great music ever since the 90's. So there is a good amount of bands to be found here at the western side of the Iberian Peninsula.
So Spain has been talked up as one of the favourites to win it all, but after the sudden sacking of manager Lopetegui, chaos reigns in the Spanish camp. Let us be honest though, will that really disturb the team? With a team that is bursting with talent in close to every position, Spain should go through to the play offs with ease. Then again, they have failed to go past the group in the previous two championships. I still believe in them though, with players like Silva, Isco, De Gea, Iniesta, Costa, Ramos, Pique, Alba, Busquets, and many more, how can you not succeed?
But while Spain is bigger than their little brother Portugal, that does not translate in the metal side of things. There is certainly a good number of interesting bands out there, like the symphonic power metal band Dark Moor, the thrashers in Angelus Apatrida, the up and rising symphonic band Diabulus In Musica, and the heavy metal legends Mägo De Oz, but none of them are of world class standard. It definitely feels like the Spanish metal scene is there, but it is not growing at a noticeable rate. They would need a band that could make that gigantic breakthrough.
Thoughts on group
Not much to say about Iran and Morocco, both understandably have very small scenes. Spain and Portugal are both pretty decent, even if Portugal may rely more on Moonspell, while Spain has more of a broader array of bands to count on. So while no country in this group may not be any of the big guns in the metal world, they still offer something to the table.
Prediction on the competition
Everything is leaning towards Spain and Portugal going through, and I do think it will end this way. Do not be surprised though if Portugal somehow screw this up...