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SARANSK, June 25, 2018 (News Wires) - Portugal boss Fernando Santos predicts a “tough battle” in Monday's decisive World Cup group game against Iran as both countries chase a place in the last 16.

European champions Portugal are level with Spain on four points at the top of Group B and need a draw to guarantee qualification.

Iran, who beat Morocco in their opening game before losing to Spain, are trying to reach the latter stages of the World Cup for the first time.

“We've seen all the qualifying games, not just those at the World Cup, and we've seen they're a very organised team,” Santos said Sunday.

“They have quality players, with the experience of two successive World Cups and some of them are playing in big leagues like Spain, Greece or Russia.”

Iran must win in Saransk to prolong their Russian adventure and will take heart from a narrow 1-0 loss against Spain, a game decided by a fluke Diego Costa strike.

“In my opinion they are the best Asian team,” Santos said.

“They have a lot of ability as a team and not just as a defensive team. They also know how to play on the counter as they showed against Spain.

“We have to prepare ourselves for a tough battle, with two teams that want to win and that are going to do everything to achieve that.”

Portugal go into the contest as heavy favourites to progress, but veteran centreback Pepe strongly insisted the job was not yet complete.

“We don't think we have a foot and a half in the last 16 and this is a good thing,” Pepe said.

“We have a lot of respect for our rivals and it's a very important game because it's going to give us the chance to get through the group phase.”

Cristiano Ronaldo has scored all four of Portugal's goals so far in the tournament, although Santos rejected suggestions the team is overly reliant on the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

“He makes the difference here, like he does at Real Madrid and before at Manchester United and Sporting Lisbon,” Santos said. “But on Monday Iran are going to play against Portugal, not against Cristiano.”

There will be a familiar face in the Iran dugout in Carlos Queiroz, a long-time friend of Santos's who coached his native Portugal at the 2010 World Cup.

The former Real Madrid boss and Manchester United assistant has been in charge of the Iran national side since 2011.

Queiroz admitted it would be “a special day” facing his homeland but said friendships would be put to one side as he bids to make history with Iran.

“We have to be realistic, we're going to play against one of the strongest teams at the moment,” Queiroz said.

“Portugal are not only a contender, they're one of the favourites for the title.”

SARANSK, Russia, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - Cristiano Ronaldo has scored Portugal’s all-four goals in the World Cup so far and the European Champions will be heavily dependent on the talismanic forward to see them through against a stoic Iran side in their final Group B match on Monday.

Ronaldo’s hat-trick in the 3-3 draw against Spain gave Portugal a vital point while an early headed strike, which made him Europe’s all-time top international goal scorer, against Morocco proved enough to bring home three points.

Portugal and Spain, who take on already ousted Morocco, are on four points and need a draw from their respective matches. But Iran are a point behind with three and must beat Portugal to progress.

The European sides will not only aim for victory but will also try to outscore each other with the top spot in the group set to be decided on goal difference.

The 33-year-old Real Madrid forward’s individual brilliance has glossed over Portugal’s dour performances in their first two matches and Fernando Santos’s side have mostly appeared like a one-man team.

In 26 matches competitive matches since Santos took over in September 2014, Portugal have won 20 and lost twice, with one of those being a penalty shootout defeat by Chile in the 2017 Confederations Cup. Of those 20 wins, 10 have been by a single goal and most of the others were against weaker opponents.

They lost the ball numerous times against Morocco which left Santos unimpressed. “We have to look at this, we lost control of the game,” Santos said. “We misplaced a lot of passes, we lost confidence... it was inexplicable.

“If in a match against players like they have, if you don’t have the ball, they wear you down and you get into trouble.”

On Monday, Portugal’s players will meet a familiar face in the opposition technical area in Iran coach and compatriot Carlos Queiroz, who coached the side from 2008 to the South Africa World Cup in 2010.

The stability and pragmatism of Queiroz’s seven-year reign, which will come to an end after the tournament with the Portuguese deciding to quit, has firmly established Iran as Asia’s number one team.

Iran benefited from a late own goal by Morocco to get their World Cup off to a winning start in St. Petersburg but then lost 1-0 to Spain in a hard-fought match in Kazan.

Stopping Ronaldo from scoring will be the team’s primary objective, while young Sardar Azmoun will lead the attack hoping to take the side past the group stage for the first time.

Queiroz has declared the Portugal match as the most interesting and important match in his seven years with Iran.

BAGHDAD, June 23, 2018 (News Wires) - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose political bloc came third in a May parliamentary election, met on Saturday with cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc came first, in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, Abadi's office said.

Meanwhile, Al-Abadi warned Saturday that he would not allow militias to stockpile arms, two weeks after a weapons depot belonging to an armed group exploded in Baghdad.

At least 16 people were killed and around 30 injured when the cache, owned by a group close to populist cleric Moqtada Sadr, blew up in his stronghold of Sadr City on June 7.

"There are groups who have taken advantage of the war against (the Islamic State group) to stock up weapons in order to threaten the state," Abadi said at a conference at Baghdad's Defence University for Military Studies.

"They wanted to be stronger than the state in order to blackmail civilians," he said. "This we will not allow."

TEHRAN, June 22, 2018 (MENA) – Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi on Friday said he does not rule out Tehran's withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCPOA) in the coming weeks, Sputnik news agency reported.

"I cannot say that the prospect of the continuation of negotiations with Europe is clear and can lead us to achieve a joint package for saving the JCPOA," Araqchi noted, adding that the deal was "in the intensive care unit" as a result of the "US withdrawal."

Tehran has been earlier saying it would be complying with the nuclear deal, signed in 2015 in Vienna by Iran, the European Union, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany, despite the US decision to withdraw from the agreement.

The announcement comes after Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in an article on Wednesday Tehran would return to the negotiating table with the United States if it sticks to the 2015 nuclear pact, which requires Tehran to maintain a peaceful nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

 

VIENNA, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - OPEC agreed on Friday on a modest increase in oil production from July after its leader Saudi Arabia persuaded arch-rival Iran to cooperate amid calls from major consumers to help reduce the price of crude and avoid a supply shortage.

Two OPEC sources said the group agreed that OPEC and its allies led by Russia should increase production by about 1 million barrels per day (bpd), or 1 per cent of global supply.

The real increase will be smaller because several countries that recently underproduced oil will struggle to return to full quotas while other producers will not be allowed to fill the gap, OPEC sources have said.

The United States, China and India had urged OPEC to release more supply to prevent an oil deficit that would hurt the global economy.

Saudi Arabia and Russia said they were happy to pump more but Iran had criticised the idea as it faces export-crippling US sanctions.

Iran, OPEC's third-largest producer, had demanded OPEC reject calls from US President Donald Trump for an increase in oil supply, arguing that Trump had contributed to a recent rise in prices by imposing sanctions on Iran and Venezuela.

Trump slapped fresh sanctions on Tehran in May and market watchers expect Iran's output to drop by a third by the end of 2018. That means the country has little to gain from a deal to raise OPEC output, unlike top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

However, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih appears to have convinced his Iranian peer Bijan Zanganeh to support the increase just hours before Friday's OPEC meeting.

OPEC and its allies have since last year been participating in a pact to cut output by 1.8 million bpd. The measure has helped rebalance the market in the past 18 months and lifted oil to around $75 per barrel from as low as $27 in 2016.

But unexpected outages in Venezuela, Libya and Angola have effectively brought supply cuts to around 2.8 million bpd in recent months.

Brent oil prices were up 1.9 per cent on Friday as the output boost had been largely priced in and was seen as modest.

"It will be enough for now but not enough for the fourth quarter to address a decline in Iranian and Venezuelan exports," said Gary Ross, head of global oil analytics at S&P Global.

"There isn´t a lot of spare capacity in the world. If we lose a million bpd of output from Venezuela and Iran in the fourth quarter, where will all these barrels come from? We are in for higher prices for longer," he said.

The OPEC meeting began around 10:00 GMT and was continuing after two and a half hours.

Falih has warned the world could face a supply deficit of up to 1.8 million bpd in the second half of 2018 and that OPEC's responsibility was to address consumers' worries.

"We want to prevent the shortage and the squeeze that we saw in 2007-2008," Falih said, referring to a time when oil rallied close to $150 per barrel.

OPEC's deal to release more supply centres on the idea of returning to 100 percent compliance with existing, agreed cuts. Current compliance is around 40-50 percent above target because of production outages in Venezuela, Libya and Angola.

Zanganeh has said that if OPEC returned to regular compliance, the group would raise output by around 460,000 bpd. Iran has objected to having members with additional capacity such as Saudi Arabia fill Venezuelan output gaps.

Falih also said the real increase for OPEC and non-OPEC would be smaller than the nominal gain of 1 million bpd. He said OPEC could meet again in September to adjust the deal.

OPEC sources also said Iran had demanded that US sanctions be mentioned in the group's post-meeting communique.

The United States, which rivals Russia and Saudi Arabia for the position of world No.1 oil producer, is not participating in the current supply pact.

MOSCOW, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) – Coach Carlos Queiroz said Iran will soak up the experience of facing World Cup contenders Spain on Wednesday but warned the Lions of Persia will produce their "best game ever" as they strive to cause the shock of the tournament.

Days after celebrating only their second-ever World Cup win in five editions with a 1-0 victory over Morocco that sent them top of Group B, Iran are expected to return to earth with a bump against a Spain side oozing class.

"For us it's a privilege and an honour to be here. It's a unique opportunity for us to play against Spain, one of the candidates to win the World Cup," Queiroz told a packed and, at times, chaotic media conference in Kazan on Tuesday.

"We're in a win-win situation because it's a unique opportunity for our national team to learn more about the game and to grow as players."

Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa scored twice while Real Madrid defender Nacho gave Spain a 3-2 lead before Cristiano Ronaldo snatched a 3-3 draw for Portugal with a late third in a spectacular game in Sochi last Friday.

Queiroz is under no illusions about the superiority of Fernando Hierro's side as the Spaniards look to claim their first win of the tournament.

But he says Iran are in Russia carrying the hopes of an entire nation, not just to make up the numbers.

"If there was a magic potion to stop the Spanish team, then $1 million would not be too much to buy it, even though we do have some financial troubles," said Queiroz, who was flanked by AEK Athens midfielder Masoud Shojaei.

Queiroz, a former assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, sounded a defiant message, saying Spain could boss the match technically but could not control how much Iran will fight.

"We are well aware of Spain's reputation, so we'll have to play our best game ever. In the end the football gods will decide," he said.

 

 

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