From the minute coach Fernando Santos hinted in a press conference that Cristiano Ronaldo might not be in Portugal’s starting eleven, there was huge interest in which side would represent A Seleção against Switzerland. It transpired that CR7 was only to be given a place on the bench, as his replacement, Gonçalo Ramos stole the headlines, becoming the youngest player to score a World Cup hat-trick in the knockout stages since Pelé, in 1958. Portugal produced a scintillating display in running out 6-1 winners in their Round of 16 match, a performance that their earlier games didn’t really hint at. Although they beat Ghana 3-2 in the opening game — which saw Cristiano Ronaldo become the first man to score at five World Cups — they had to survive an anxious moment when Inaki Williams came close to embarrassing Portuguese goalkeeper, Diogo Costa, late on. Two second-half goals from Bruno Fernandes earned Portugal a 2-0 win over Uruguay, guaranteeing Santos’ side a place in the last 16 for the fourth time in five World Cups — though Ronaldo again made the headlines, this time over whether he had got a head to Fernandes’ cross for the first goal. But on Matchday 3, despite taking a fifth-minute lead, Portugal slipped to a 2-1 defeat to South Korea, conceding the decisive goal in stoppage time. Across their four games in Qatar, Portugal averaged 58% possession — with the game against the Swiss the only time that they didn’t enjoy the majority of the ball — and registered 23 shots on target while allowing 15.
Morocco’s progress in this tournament has been founded upon a very strong defensive record. The only goal they’ve conceded in four matches was an unfortunate own goal against Canada when they were already 2-0 ahead. Their stubborn resistance began in a goalless draw against Croatia. What followed on Matchday 2 was an even more eye-catching 2-0 win over top seeds, Belgium thanks to two second-half goals. Morocco sealed a first appearance in the Round of 16 since 1986, with two first-half goals against Canada, despite the concession of the aforementioned own goal. Most people expected a repeat of 1986 when Morocco’s World Cup adventure ended in a defeat at the hands of another of Football’s superpowers, West Germany. But despite having 77% possession Spain couldn’t breach the Atlas Lions’ defence over the 120 minutes, and Morocco’s goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou became the hero in the penalty shootout. The Sevilla ‘keeper saved two spot-kicks, and Spain missed a third, as Morocco reached the Quarter-finals for the first time. Morocco has only averaged 33% possession in their four games so far and haven’t had more than 41% of the ball in any game. They have had 10 shots on target, and only allowed six. Morocco have now conceded only one goal in seven matches since manager Walid Regragui took over in the role.
Portugal are ranked ninth in the world, 13 places ahead of their opponents, and look set to continue to use their standard 4-3-3 formation, as will their opponents. Morocco will hope the identical formations will help the two sides cancel each other out and will want to make it another long night in the knockout stages. Both previous meetings between these two nations have been at the World Cup. Morocco stunned Portugal 3-1 in the Group Stage in 1986. In Russia, Portugal owed their 1-0 victory to a goal from you know who.