Who: Portugal vs Morocco
Where: Al Thumama Stadium
When: , December 10, 6pm (15:00 GMT)
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It’s a contest between two sides that will be at the peak of their confidence.
Morocco’s Atlas Lions are unbeaten at this World Cup and have already pulled off two major upsets, against Spain and Belgium. But they’ll be up against a Portugal side that fired six goals past Switzerland on Tuesday – without needing to start with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Morocco, buoyed by their penalty heroics against Spain in the last 16, are now in uncharted territory: They have never made it to the quarter-finals before. But they have only conceded one goal in four World Cup games. Morocco also boast arguably the most vocal and dedicated set of supporters at this tournament.
Portugal’s coach, Fernando Santos, chose to start the Switzerland game with star forward Ronaldo on the bench. The decision appeared to unshackle the attacking creativity in the team as Ronaldo’s replacement Goncalo Ramos bagged himself a hat-trick. Ramos has scored 14 goals in 21 games for Benfica this season and lived up to his nickname O Feiticeiro – the wizard – against the Swiss. He will be a player that Morocco will need to keep an eye on.Morocco have shown incredible composure so far in this tournament and are unlikely to be intimidated by the occasion. Nothing embodies their calm and collected spirit more than Morocco and Paris Saint-Germain’s defensive stalwart, Achraf Hakimi, who scored their winning penalty against Spain with the gentlest of panenkas.
Yassine “Bono” Bounou, Morocco’s mild-mannered goalkeeper, was the match’s hero as Spain failed to score a single penalty in the shootout. He will need to continue this form in the face of a red-hot Portugal attack.To be clear, Morocco are not just a defensive side; they also boast a considerable creative flair, including Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal, the former Southampton winger who bamboozled Spain’s Marcos Llorente several times with his trickery.
Portugal also boast an abundance of creative talent, with the likes of Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes driving forward and Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva in midfield.Danilo Pereira, the Paris Saint-Germain centre back, is still a doubt for the game after fracturing several ribs in training. However, Pepe, the 39-year-old veteran, has done a fine job as a replacement and even grabbed a goal in Portugal’s 6-1 rout of Switzerland.
The two teams have faced each other twice at the World Cup. At the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, Morocco beat Portugal 3-1 in the group stages. Ronaldo scored the only goal of the game at the 2018 World Cup in Russia as Portugal picked up a vital three points to progress to the round of 16.
The 37-year-old, beset by controversies in recent weeks, will want to cement his legacy by extending Portugal’s run at this World Cup, likely to be his last. But history beckons for Morocco, too. It’s the stuff dreams and heartbreak are made of.