Group B signs off with a top of the table, winner-takes-all clash. It will see the European Champions, Portugal, take on the impressive Swiss, the only other team in UEFA qualifying, besides Germany, to start their final game with a perfect record.
From the draw, it was destined to be a shoot-out between these two. The field under them comprises Hungary, the Faroe Islands, Latvia, and Andorra. As expected, they were all despatched of with ease by Portugal and Switzerland; the goals coming in droves.
Three points separate, a gap opened in the reverse tie in Basel, in which a Ronaldo-less Portugal fell 2-0 to the Shaqiri-less Swiss. Switzerland stole the march in what was like a best-of-the-rest clash.
With both teams at full strength, and with second placed Portugal 8 goals ahead on goal difference, and automatic qualification to next Russia 2018 at stake, the continent will be watching.
Will Ronaldo rise to the occasion again?
Many of today’s top players are accused of under-performing at international level. Not Cristiano Ronaldo. Breaking into the team at 18, he has enjoyed a 14-year-old (and still going!) international career that has seen him captain his country for the past 11 years, break his country’s scoring record, break the European Championship scoring record, lose 2004’s European Championship final match and cry for his country, retire hurt at the same event 12 years later – and again cry for his country, watch his teammates win and celebrate with his country. It has been great to witness.
During Ronaldo’s illustrious international career, Portugal has qualified for seven major tournaments in a row, at which Portugal has successfully advanced beyond their group in all bar one. This included semi-final appearances at World Cup 2006 and the 2012 European Championships, and final appearances at the European Championships in 2004 and 2016, the latter of which Portugal won.
Hopefully Ronaldo and Portugal can rise to tonight’s challenge and book a place at next year’s tournament. Their absence would be a discredit to the tournament. And maybe, just maybe, Ronaldo can do what no other Portuguese captain has done, and hoist the most coveted trophy in the sport, joining the short list of supreme players that have won every major trophy in their respective Leagues, and at International level.
Predicted Switzerland lineup
Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Djourou, Schar, Rodriguez, Behrami, Xhaka, Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Mehmedi, Seferovic
Predicted Portugal lineup
Rui Patricio, Soares, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro, Moutinho, Carvalho, Silva, Silva, Ronaldo, Nani
Expect Switzerland to attempt to stifle waves of Portuguese attacks, utilising counter-attack opportunities to go forward. A strong Portuguese attack should eventually get the breakthrough, to which it is hard to see the Swiss having a Plan B. The Portuguese can be expected to pounce again on any spaces left behind by a Swiss team forced to attack.
Portugal to win 2-0.
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