Doha (Qatar): The Round of 16 ends on Tuesday with Morocco playing Spain, while Portugal take on Switzerland. Here are four things to look out for in the World Cup in Qatar.
1. No change of plan from Spain
The Japanese were able to disrupt Spain’s rhythm to beat them 2-1 in the last match in Group E, but don’t expect any change of plan from the Spanish, who will stay true to their passing game.
Ferran Torres, Aymeric Laporte and Jordi Alba should give Spain more control than against the Japanese, but the Spanish don’t have a team to radically alter the way they play.
Maybe Ansu Fati’s brief cameo indicates he could have a bigger role to play, but if any side has an identity in this World Cup, it is the Spanish, and they are not going to change after just one setback.
2. Morocco to get physical
Morocco have seen how the Japanese were able to beat Spain by soaking up pressure and then stepping up a gear at the right time and coach Walid Regragui will be confident his players can cause an upset.
Despite their seven goals against Costa Rica, Spain does have trouble turning possession into chances and with just one goal conceded in the tournament and clean sheets against Belgium and Croatia, Morocco has shown they are mean at the back.
If their miserly defense is combined with pacy forwards, such as Hakim Ziyech, Youssef En-Nesyri and Abde Ezzalzouli (the last two of whom play in Spain) can provide in attack, Morocco have a mix that can make Spain suffer.
3. Time to drop Ronaldo?
It won’t happen of course, because the ramifications for the squad would probably be too much, but there is a school of thought that Portugal coach Fernando Santos would do his side a favour (at least in playing terms) by leaving Cristiano Ronaldo out of his starting 11 against Switzerland.
Ronaldo’s main contribution in this World Cup has been to win and score a highly dubious penalty against Ghana, while the rest of the time has served to show how his 37 years are starting to be felt. Quite simply he has lost the mobility that made him so dangerous and he now cuts a static presence in attack.
With a side that likes to have the ball, Santos would be better using the mobility of Andre Silva or Rafael Leao against a rock-solid Swiss defense.
4. Swiss have a good chance
Switzerland are a side that habitually makes the last 16 of big tournaments and they have a very good chance of beating Portugal on Sunday.
Murat Yakin has built a team that is tough in defense and midfield, but which has enough quality in key areas to cause their rivals’ problems. A lot will depend on whether Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka have good games, as they lack a natural goalscorer, but if Breel Embolo has a good night, he has the potential to bully the Portugal back line and the Swiss will also be a constant threat from set pieces.