When Switzerland and Portugal meet in their FIFA World Cup Round of 16 tie at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday night, it will be the latest in a series of fixtures between the two sides in recent years.
“We’ve played Portugal many times recently,” said Swiss captain Granit Xhaka ahead of their upcoming encounter. “They’re a dangerous team who can catch you on the counter-attack, as we found out in Lisbon during the Nations League.
“We need to be fully focused from the first minute to the last and make sure we don’t make any mistakes. If we can do that, then I’m confident we can frustrate them.”
Like Xhaka, many players from both of this year’s squads featured in the two qualifying matches between Switzerland and Portugal in the run-up to Russia 2018. Each team amassed an impressive 27 points out of a possible 30 from that campaign, only dropping points by losing 2-0 to the other.
Portugal’s superior goal difference ultimately earned them direct qualification for the finals, while the Swiss were forced to take the scenic route via the play-offs, where they edged past Northern Ireland.
The next meeting came in the semi-finals of the UEFA Nations League in 2019, when Portugal won 3-1 thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick before beating the Netherlands in the final to clinch the title.
The most recent duel came in the current edition of the Nations League. As in their World Cup qualifying matches, each side won a match apiece, with Switzerland exacting revenge for a 4-0 defeat on 5 June to emerge with a 1-0 victory from the reverse fixture a few days later.
The finely balanced nature of this rivalry is confirmed by their head-to-head record. Of 25 matches played, Switzerland have won 11, Portugal have won nine and the teams have drawn five times.
With all this in mind, there is not much to choose between them going into Tuesday’s encounter at Lusail Stadium. Goalkeeper Gregor Kobel agreed with his skipper Xhaka, saying: “Portugal are an extremely talented side with plenty of quality, but we’ve got good players too, and most importantly we make a strong team.
“We need to defend compactly as a unit and play brave, intelligent football; anything is possible in this game if we do that.”
The players in the Portuguese camp are also well aware of the tough task that awaits them, with midfielder William Carvalho warning: “They’re formidable opponents. Switzerland have some excellent players in their ranks and we expect them to have plenty of possession.
“The match will be decided by the little details. We’ll do our best to win the game, and to do that we need to play the way we did in our first two group matches.”
Ruben Dias followed a similar train of thought, saying: “There are no favourites in this game. Switzerland have plenty of quality and potential. It’ll be a very close match.”
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