On Tuesday, the Group H champion Portugal will take on the Group G runner-up Switzerland at Lusail Stadium. Both teams have won two of their first three games, putting them in the World Cup’s quarterfinals.
Among the eclectic last 16, one of the two all-European matchups features two sides with contrasting fates in their final group encounters.
Match Preview: Portugal vs Switzerland
Portugal’s first round of group play results was promising enough that they needed a point to guarantee a top place in their Qatar 2022 group and automatically a spot in the game of 16.
It seemed like the Selecao would breeze through when they took the lead against South Korea in the fifth minute thanks to a goal from Ricardo Horta, one of many new players coach Fernando Santos had brought in for the occasion. And yet, their opponents mounted one of the many comebacks that have characterized the first two weeks of the finals, drawing level before halftime and scoring a thrilling win in the 91st minute to upset them 2-1.
Portugal lost their opening game, but when Uruguay beat Ghana, they were still assured of first place in Group H. Since finishing fourth in Germany in 2006, they aspire to reach the quarterfinals.
Having started their World Cup with a 3-2 victory over Ghana and a 2-0 win over Uruguay last Monday (thanks to two goals from Bruno Fernandes), Euro 2016 champion Santos has a good chance of setting a new standard this winter.
Even though Eusebio drove Portugal to a third-place finish at the 1966 World Cup, the Iberian country has never advanced to a senior global final despite its history of success at the young level. It’s true that in two of their past three campaigns, their opponents knocked them out in the first round.
Santos has to get his squad selection right in Lusail, where the Selecao will face familiar opponents who have a history of success in big championships even as questions persist about the health and fitness of one-person record machine Cristiano Ronaldo.
When these two teams played earlier this year in the UEFA Nations League, Portugal came out on top 4-0 in Lisbon thanks to a brace from Cristiano Ronaldo in the first half, but Switzerland reversed the tables with a 1-0 triumph in Geneva.
After beating Spain and the Czech Republic in the Nations League, Switzerland began their unlikely quest for a first World Cup by winning two of their first three games in Qatar.
After their 1-0 defeat over Cameroon and 1-0 loss to Brazil, second-placed Nati was supposed to qualify from Group G with a point, but Cameroon’s fantastic win against Brazil altered everything.
Thus, a hard-fought 3-2 win against Serbia at Stadium 974, in which 11 players were booked, secured advancement to the last 16.
Breel Embolo, Remo Freuler, and Xherdan Shaqiri scored, while Granit Xhaka avoided a red card after a tumultuous match.
Murat Yakin’s team is 90 minutes away from winning three World Cup finals matches and reaching the quarterfinals for the first time in seven tries.
Switzerland hasn’t reached the last eight since hosting the World Cup in 1954. Still, after defeating rivals and defending world champions France to reach the quarterfinals at last year’s Euros, a side familiar with knockout football will definitely like their chances on Tuesday.
Team News: Portugal vs Switzerland
With a qualification from Group H confirmed, Fernando Santos opted to make six changes to his Portugal XI in their most recent match. Still, the cautious coach is expected to return to form on Tuesday.
Antonio Silva, a defender for Benfica, made his debut with the club and in the league alongside a player 20 years older, Pepe, in an August match against South Korea.
Diogo Dalot made a solid first impression on his World Cup debut and may be retained despite being the youngest Portuguese player to appear in the tournament. Ruben Dias returns to the back four.
Cristiano Ronaldo, the Selecao’s all-time leading scorer, starts up front again despite being one of three players changed after 65 minutes on Friday. Andre Silva and another Benfica prospect, Goncalo Ramos, are both benched in favour of Ronaldo.
Last week, injuries forced Nuno Mendes out of the competition for good. This week, Danilo is still out with broken ribs, while Otavio’s status is uncertain.
Switzerland’s defence will be bolstered by the return of sturdy goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who missed their last Group G encounter due to sickness. The venue for this match will be Lusail Stadium.
With 30 clean sheets and other critical saves in 76 international appearances, Sommer would replace Gregor Kobel of Borussia Dortmund if the latter were to be injured.
Breel Embolo will likely continue to start in front of the goal for Murat Yakin’s side, while Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler will offer a solid midfield shield in front of a disciplined defence.
Support comes in from the wings thanks to Ruben Vargas and Xherdan Shaqiri, with Christian Fassnacht and Renato Steffen as backups.
Portugal Possible Starting Lineup: Costa, Dalot, Pepe, Dias, Cancelo, B. Silva, Neves, Carvalho, Fernandes, Felix, Ronaldo.
Switzerland Possible Starting Lineup: Kobel, Widmer, Akanji, Schar, Rodriguez, Freuler, Xhaka, Shaqiri, Sow, Vargas, Embolo.
Our Prediction: Portugal 2-1 Switzerland
Portugal seldom has trouble scoring because of their plethora of offensive skills, but keeping a lead is typically a different story.
Constant pessimism from Fernando Santos causes the Selecao to pull back, which a solid Swiss team may exploit to force overtime. However, with Pepe, Ronaldo, and the rest of the team on their side, they should be able to pull it off.