Portugal v Switzerland
After beginning their campaign with a 1-0 win against Cameroon, a 1-0 defeat to Brazil, and a come-from-behind 3-2 win against Serbia, Switzerland will be looking to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the fourth time and the first since 1954 as they take on Fernando Santos’ Portugal. Having reached six of the first eight World Cups, Switzerland returned to the world’s biggest tournament in 1994 after 28 years, before enduring another 12-year absence – they have since advanced to every World Cup from 2006 onwards. Four of Switzerland’s last five trips to the World Cup have ended in the Round of 16, but they will nevertheless be looking to take inspiration from their balanced record against the Seleção.
After beating them 2-0 in the 2008 Euros, the Swiss won 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier in 2016 before losing 2-0 the following year, with Portugal beating them 3-1 in the 2019 UEFA Nations League semi-finals and thrashing them 4-0 on June 5 in a UEFA Nations League match, only to lose 1-0 the following week with Haris Seferović opening the scoring within a minute. This defeat would see longtime veteran Rui Patrício lose his starting spot in goal with 23-year-old Diogo Costa solidifying his place between the sticks, and with Costa going up against another fine goalkeeper in Gladbach veteran Yann Sommer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fairly low-scoring affair here as Costa looks set to face off against the country of his birth. Switzerland’s stalwart defense has been a pillar of their recent success, having conceded twice in their eight World Cup qualifiers, conceding 1.32 xG against Serbia, 1.02 against Brazil and 0.74 against Cameroon. Fernando Santos will be well aware that conceding an early goal will be a mountain to climb for Portugal, and it could see him opt for a conservative setup and make for a cagey affair against the Swiss.
Portugal have opened their World Cup with two victories against Ghana and Uruguay and a loss to South Korea, and apart from their clean sheet against La Celeste, they have conceded twice in their other two matches. Their first match would see them concede nine shots, three on target, followed up by 11 against Uruguay, three on target, before conceding 13 shots to South Korea, six on target.
Portugal’s first-place finish belied their defensive frailties and vulnerabilities in defending set-pieces, but I think Switzerland could give them a run for their money and exploit the Seleção’s leaky backline. With Xherdan Shaqiri, Breel Embolo and Ruben Vargas combining in the final third, the Swiss should be good for at least 3 on target, with a shot at 4+ at 2.0 for the more ambitious punters.
Granit Xhaka was a pillar of strength in a tense and fraught game against Serbia. He kept a cool head and dealt with the attempts of Serbia’s players to get a reaction from him by simply playing his football and leading his team to victory. The engine in the Swiss midfield battled hard, distributed the ball well and played an important role in the victory. There is no question that he will be key if Switzerland are to advance beyond Portugal in the Last 16 stage.
In the match against Serbia, Xhaka registered three shots as he tried to replicate his goal against the same opponents four years earlier. The midfielder isn’t shy to shoot, he also had two attempts on goal against Cameroon earlier in the group. It makes it four out of seven games this year that Xhaka has at least attempted one shot, it isn’t something he can normally resist. Two of the games he didn’t have a shot at all were against Spain and Brazil sides that controlled possession as Switzerland mostly defended.
I don’t expect Switzerland to retreat into their shell like against Brazil, they’ll pick their moments to go forward and try to hurt Portugal. The Portuguese have faced a lot of shots, many of them from outside the box, in their opening three games and this is an area that Xhaka relishes a shot from. I think he’ll manage at least one in this game.
This season has seen Rúben Neves assume the captaincy at Wolves following Conor Coady’s loan departure to Everton as well as solidify a starting spot in Portugal’s midfield. Often utilized in a box-to-box role at Molineux, Neves has been tasked with more defensive duties under Fernando Santos, which has often seen find himself in unfamiliar territory and resort to costly fouls.
Neves has started each of Portugal’s last eight official matches, which has seen him concede a foul vs. Switzerland, two fouls vs. Czech Republic, one vs. Switzerland, zero in a 4-0 win vs. Czech Republic, two vs. Spain, two vs. Ghana, one vs. Uruguay and zero vs. South Korea. Neves was on his best behavior vs. South Korea after picking up a booking vs. Uruguay, but he could have his hands full as he looks to deal with the rapid counter-attacking threat of Breel Embolo. The Swiss forward is drawing 2.3 fouls per game in Ligue 1 and has already drawn nine in the World Cup, and he could be a real headache for Neves to deal with on Tuesday.
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