Group H winners Portugal face Switzerland Group G runners-up at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday after both qualified for the World Cup knockout phase with two wins from three. In one of only two all-European matches in a diverse last 16, two teams with very different fortunes in their final group matches compete for a vital place in the quarter-finals.
After a solid start to their Qatar 2022 campaign, Portugal needed only a point in the final round of group matches to be certain of finishing first, and qualification for the knockout stages was already guaranteed.
When Ricardo Horta, one of several new faces introduced by coach Fernando Santos for the occasion, put them ahead against South Korea in the fifth minute, it appeared the Selecao would breeze through. Nonetheless, their opponents staged one of several comebacks that characterized the first two weeks of the finals, equalizing before the break and scoring a dramatic 91st-minute goal to condemn them to a 2-1 defeat.
Despite their first defeat, Uruguay’s victory over Ghana ensured Portugal’s progression as Group H’s top dog, and they now seek to reach the last 16 for the first time since 2006, when they finished fourth in Germany.
After leading his team to a 3-2 victory over Ghana and a 2-0 victory over Uruguay last Monday, where Bruno Fernandes scored twice, Santos can conceivably aim to break new ground this winter.
Inspired by Eusebio, Portugal finished third in the 1966 World Cup, but despite their youth success, the Iberian nation has never reached a senior global final. Indeed, two of their last three campaigns ended in the first round of the knockout stage.
With questions about Cristiano Ronaldo’s fitness and form still swirling, Santos must pick his team wisely in Lusail, where the Selecao will face familiar foes with a proven track record in major finals.
When they last met in the UEFA Nations League earlier this year, they had two very different results in the space of a few days: Portugal won 4-0 in Lisbon, with Cristiano scoring twice in the first half, before Switzerland turned the tables with a 1-0 victory in Geneva.
After winning the Nations League in the summer, Switzerland beat Spain and the Czech Republic in the same competition before kicking off their unlikely quest for a first World Cup by winning two of their first three games in Qatar.
After their 1-0 defeat of Cameroon was followed by a 1-0 loss to Brazil, it was thought that a point would be enough for Nati to qualify from Group G. Still, Cameroon’s incredible success against the Brazilians completely changed the picture.
It took a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Serbia at Stadium 974 – during which 11 players were booked by the referee – to secure progression to the last 16.
Breel Embolo, Remo Freuler, and opening scorer Xherdan Shaqiri – who celebrated by shushing the Serbian fans who jeered his every touch – got them through, while Granit Xhaka narrowly avoided receiving a red card at the end of a tense encounter.
The Swiss have never won three games in a single World Cup finals before and have failed to reach the quarterfinals in their previous seven attempts, but only 90 minutes – plus possibly a little more – now stand between Murat Yakin’s team and such a feat this year.
Switzerland has not reached the last eight since hosting the World Cup in 1954, but after defeating neighbors and reigning world champions France to reach the quarterfinals at last year’s Euros, a squad well-versed in the ups and downs of knockout football will surely fancy their chances on Tuesday.