Portugal qualified for the round of 16 by finishing top of Group H with six points
Switzerland advanced as runners-up from Group G ahead of Serbia and Cameroon
Goals could be few and far between in what will be a cagey encounter in Qatar
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Portugal went down 2-1 to South Korea on matchday three, a scoreline that had huge repercussions in Group H. A late goal from Hwang Hee-chan sent the Koreans through to the knockout phase for only the third time, as Uruguay crashed out despite a 2-0 victory over Ghana.
All three of those teams still had a chance of qualifying for the round of 16 going into the final round of fixtures. For Portugal, it was a much more serene day. Fernando Santos’ side had already wrapped up a place in the knockout phase and they knew they would almost certainly go through as Group H winners regardless of the result against South Korea.
That allowed Santos to rest some of his key players, although it was something of a surprise to see the 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo in the starting XI (perhaps because of the player’s desperation to finish as the World Cup 2022 top scorer).
It is still hard to know what to make of this team. Portugal beat Ghana 3-2 in their first outing in Qatar. They were comfortable enough for most of the game, yet still came within one Inaki Williams slip of dropping two points.
In a 2-0 defeat of Uruguay a few days later, Portugal took the lead but then gave up a handful of good chances to their South American opponents. They only made sure of the points late on because of a controversial penalty that really should not have been awarded.
Portugal are yet to deliver a performance that has convinced from start to finish. They are not necessarily alone in that regard after three matches, but neither have they done enough to suggest they are potential winners this winter.
Switzerland only needed a draw against Serbia in their third Group G game to qualify alongside Brazil, but you would not have known it from their approach. Instead of sitting back in an attempt to hold out for a point - a strategy that can at times be laced with danger - Switzerland were bold and proactive.
It proved to be the perfect approach. Xherdan Shaqiri put them 1-0 up, and although Serbia hit back with two strikes in the space of nine minutes, Switzerland notched a goal either side of half-time to retake the lead at 3-2. That was how the scoreline stayed until the final whistle.
For neutrals, it was a welcome surprise to see Switzerland play proactively, registering more shots (both overall and on target) than an attack-minded Serbia side that needed to win to reach the round of 16.
For the most part, Switzerland’s strength lies at the other end of the field. In European qualifying, they conceded just two goals in eight games, the joint-best defensive record across the continent.
Yakin’s men then kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 defeat of Cameroon at the tournament proper, before coming within seven minutes of shutting out Brazil on matchday two.
Switzerland are not a team that set pulses racing too often, but they have now reached the knockout stage of the last four major tournaments they have taken part in. In the last of those - Euro 2020 - the Swiss stunned France in the last 16. Do not bet against another upset on Tuesday at the Lusail Iconic Stadium.
At times in the group stage, Santos let his Portugal team off the leash. A tactically cautious manager has always been something of an awkward fit for a team packed full of attacking talent, but in the second half against Ghana, in particular, Portugal’s forwards were given the freedom to express themselves in advanced areas.
We will probably see a more considered approach from the Portuguese here. They will certainly look to create chances but are also likely to see spells of patient possession in the middle third of the pitch. At 0-0, there is no need for Portugal to force the issue and risk being picked off by their opponents.
Switzerland will not be in a rush either, so we could see these two teams cancel each other out. Indeed, the game might only open up after the interval, when Santos and Yakin would be more inclined to take a few more risks.
Expect a tight and tense opening 45 minutes, then, with a draw at half-time a distinct possibility. We fancy that it will be 0-0 at the midway point of the match, but this wager offers an insurance policy of also applying to a 1-1 or a 2-2.
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Teams: Portugal vs Switzerland
Location: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail, Qatar
Time: Tuesday, 6 December 2022, 2:00 PM EST
How to Watch: Fox Sports, Telemundo, fuboTV
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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