It’s crunch time between Portugal and Switzerland with a place at the World Cup on the line.
Portugal want to avoid another major tournament play-off, and can book their ticket to Russia with victory at the Estádio da Luz. The Seleção can also gain revenge against a Swiss side that won the reverse fixture 2-0 in Basel, a match in which Ronaldo was unavailable.
After opening their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-0 loss in Switzerland just 13 months ago, manager Fernando Santos said: “There is only one thing to do now. That is to win, win and win again until the end of qualification.” Portugal have won eight in a row and have the chance to fulfil Santos’ prophecy on Tuesday evening.
The Confederations Cup exit was disappointing, but Portugal returned to qualifying duties with wins against Faroe Islands (5-1), Hungary (1-0) and Andorra (2-0). The Seleção have scored 30 goals in eight wins since the Swiss defeat with Ronaldo scoring half of them, including the opening goal in Andorra after coming off the bench at half time. Portugal have won all four home games, scoring 18 goals and conceding twice.
The scriptwriters couldn’t have done a finer job with Group B, Switzerland winning all nine games with Portugal hot on their heels. Vladimir Petković’s side have scored 23 goals and conceded five, four of those coming in two games against Hungary.
Switzerland kept six clean sheets in a row before the 5-2 win against Hungary on Saturday. Howlers from Hungarian goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi gifted the Swiss two goals and Fabian Frei’s goal took a wicked deflection which exaggerated the significance of the score line. Yans Sommer spilled a cross for Hungary’s second goal which has the potential to play on his mind in Lisbon.
Head to head
Portugal have faced Switzerland on 21 occasions with Portugal winning seven, Switzerland ten and four draws, but they have met only twice since 1993. Switzerland won 2-0 on home soil at the 2008 European Championships in the final group game with Portugal resting key players including Ronaldo.
The latest came in the opening World Cup qualifier in Basel with another 2-0 win to Switzerland, Portugal once again without Ronaldo. The Seleção created the better chances early on before Breel Embolo pounced on a spilled free-kick and Admir Mehmedi doubled the lead soon after. Portugal were unable to get back into the game and have been playing catch up ever since.
Danger man – Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro. It’s easy to scoff at the ridiculousness of continuing to discuss the importance of Ronaldo to his nation, but at 32-years-old it’s not something that will last forever so let’s milk it for all it’s worth. He is simply brilliant on the football pitch but words will never do him justice. Just enjoy it while you can.
Ronaldo came off the bench at half time in Andorra with the match scoreless and took 18 minutes to put Portugal in front. It was the 79th international goal for the four-time Ballon d’Or winner. He was also instrumental in the build up to André Silva’s 86th minute goal that sealed the deal.
Danger men – Switzerland
Xherdan Shaqiri might have failed to meet expectations at Bayern Munich but the Stoke City winger has all the tools to unlock any defence. The tricky left footer produced two assists against Hungary to take his tally to five assists and one goal in seven games this campaign. Shaqiri didn’t play against Portugal in Basel but is definitely a player to be feared.
Haris Seferovic started this season in great form for new club Benfica, scoring in his first four games for the Eagles but has cooled off since. The striker didn’t score against Hungary but provided an assist, taking his tally to three assists and four goals this campaign. He is likely to continue up front at the familiar the Estádio da Luz, but with Breel Embolo knocking on the door after a long injury lay-off, Seferovic is under huge pressure to keep his starting spot.
Stephan Lichtsteiner is an experienced right-back, the 33-year-old Swiss captain with 92 caps under his belt. Ricardo Rodríguez is an exceptional left-back, Granit Xhaka is very important in central midfield while striker Breel Embolo is highly rated and talented but coming back from a long injury lay-off.
What to expect
It goes without saying that Ronaldo will come back into the starting XI. Neto started alongside Pepe in Andorra with Nelson Semedo and Danilo starting so Santos has some tough decisions to make for the Switzerland game.
I’ll fancy a guess and say that Cedric and Bruno Alves will come back into the defence at the expense of Neto and Nelson Semedo, with Bernardo Silva switching to his favoured position on the right wing. Quaresma could keep his spot on the left wing but might make way for the more defensive minded João Mário to keep a check on Shaqiri.
Danilo has started the last two games and might have just done enough to edge past William in the holding midfield role. It’s a difficult one to predict but here goes nothing:
After the win in Andorra Fernando Santos said: “The game versus Switzerland is not a question of revenge. It’s a question of winning it or winning it. We’ll win it.” Seleção supports certainly hope so but Switzerland will be a tough nut to crack. The Swiss are a highly organised team with talented individuals and know a draw will be enough to secure their place at Russia 2018.
Portugal are not used to doing anything the easy way, but an early ticket to Russia without the stress and uncertainty of a play-off would be welcome gift before the festive season. The stage is set for Ronaldo to step up once again and lead his nation to the World Cup.