Editorial Use Only Mandatory Credit: Photo by Dave Shopland/Shutterstock (13634940bc) Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. Portugal v Uruguay, FIFA World Cup 2022, Group H, Football, Lusail Stadium, Al Daayen, Qatar – 28 Nov 2022
Round of 16: Morocco (No. 22) vs. Spain (No. 7)
When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Education City Stadium (Doha, Qatar)
How Morocco got here: Morocco won Group F, one of two “Group of Death” candidates at the 2022 World Cup, besting both 2018 World Cup runners-up in Croatia and No. 2-ranked Belgium to earn a spot in the Round of 16. The North African nation is a relative newcomer to the World Cup stage, although it fared well during international play leading up to Qatar and firmly earned a spot in the top 25 world men’s ranking by FIFA. Morocco dominated the CAF (Continent of Africa Federation) World Cup qualifiers alongside No. 18-ranked Senegal, and it earned wins over both Belgium and Canada in group play to advance to just its second-ever Round of 16 appearance. Morocco was one of six nations at the World Cup to allow just one goal during the group stage, and it was actually the only of 32 World Cup teams to not allow a single goal scored by an opposing player. The lone goal of the tournament scored against Morocco in Qatar so far was an own goal against Canada, and Morocco will need its defense to remain in top form against Spain in the Round of 16. Morocco hasn’t lost an international match since a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the USA on June 1, 2022. They have reeled off an impressive record of seven wins, zero losses, and three ties since then.
How Spain got here: Spain was the most dominant of all 32 nations in Qatar on Matchday 1 after routing Costa Rica 7-0, but the luster quickly faded and offensive struggles started resurfacing in their final two group matches. Spain drew with Germany 1-1 on Matchday 2 and dropped a stunning 2-1 decision to Japan on Matchday 3, eventually earning the second group qualifying spot based on a goal differential tiebreaker over the No. 11-ranked Germans.
Key Stats to know: Spain led all nations in group play with a 76.1% time of possession average, as well as holding the top overall spot in accurate passes per match (829.7) and accurate long balls per match (39.3), according to fotmob.com. The Spanish control the ball and pass well, but their finishing touch has been questioned for years now in European qualifying and international competition. Despite scoring seven goals against Costa Rica, Spain scored just one goal in each of its final two group play matches and now faces a Moroccan side which has yet to allow an opponent to score on its own. Morocco’s defense led the entire field in Qatar with 13.3 successful tackles per match, while the Lions of Atlas also allowed just five shots on goal despite matches against powerhouse nations Croatia and Belgium during group play.
Players to watch: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Rodri (Spain) and Dani Olmo (Spain). Amrabat paced the Moroccans through the group with a team-leading 10 tackles won and 24 receptions on the defensive end. His 10 tackles led all defenders in Qatar through group stage play, while his 24 receptions ranked inside the top 10 alongside Rodri of Spain. The 26-year-old midfielder out of Manchester City was a vital cog on defense for La Furia Roja, who will need to limit their mistakes and avoid any lurking counterattacks from Morocco in this Round of 16 contest. If Spain is to become the first opponent to score against Morocco, then it will need to do so via the offensive prowess of Dani Olmo. The 24-year-old Olmo led the Spanish in nearly every statistical category during group play other than goals scored (although he did score one), and he ranks near the top of the leaderboard of the World Cup with 10 total shot attempts (tied for fifth), five shots on target (tied for fourth), and 1.36 expected goals per match (tied for ninth).
What to expect: Morocco’s defense has been the talk of the tournament and for good reason, but the Spanish also bring an abundance of talent, depth and experience onto the pitch for this Round of 16 clash. Look for the Spanish to be the aggressors here early on in an attempt to ward off the return of their well-known offensive struggles leading up to Qatar. They will surely need good form from leading goalscorer Álvaro Morata (who has scored three times thus far at the World Cup) and the aforementioned Olmo to create chances against the elite back-third of the field for the Lions of Atlas, and in the end Spain could just need one opportunity to find the net and advance. Do not be surprised to see a scoreless draw in the first 90 minutes here, with the Moroccans playing aggressive, loose and confident on defense with seemingly nothing to lose and all to gain. Spain’s 2-1 loss to Japan should serve as a reminder for the No. 7-ranked squad to not overlook its opponents down the stretch, and that lesson could come in handy here against a Moroccan side with far less experience and depth on its roster. Look for a tight victory for Spain to set up a potentially epic clash with Portugal in the quarterfinal round, although Morocco is certainly capable of winning.
Match history: This will be the fourth-ever World Cup meeting between Spain and Morocco, with the most recent match resulting in a 2-2 draw in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Morocco has never beaten Spain, going 0-1-2.
World Cup history: Spain won the 2010 World Cup and is now looking to make it back to the quarterfinals for the first time since its ultimate triumph 12 years ago. La Furia Roja was bounced out of the group stage in 2014, and outside of its 2010 title have never finished better than fourth place in 1950. Spain lost to host nation Russia in 2018 in the Round of 16 on penalty kicks. A win here versus Morocco would make 2022 Spain’s seventh all-time trip to the World Cup quarterfinal. Morocco’s World Cup history has been brief to say the least, with just five total appearances since becoming a FIFA member in 1958. They have made the World Cup five times since their first appearance in 1970, bowing out of the group stage three times and losing in the Round of 16 to West Germany in 1986. This is only the second time Morocco has qualified for a World Cup since 1998, although it did draw with Spain 2-2 in a Matchday 3 group stage game in 2018 to officially eliminate the Spanish from knockout stage contention.
Chris Dell’s Prediction: Spain 1, Morocco 1 (Spain wins on penalty kicks, 4-3)
Round of 16: Portugal (No. 9) vs. Switzerland (No. 15)
When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Lusail Iconic Stadium (Lusail, Qatar)
How Portugal got here: Portugal was one of just three nations to qualify for the knockout stage after its first two matches, although it certainly didn’t anticipate losing to South Korea on Matchday 3 despite while playing all of its stars. Despite the loss, Portugal still won Group H comfortably to set up a potentially epic showdown with European rival Switzerland in the Round of 16. Portugal finished second behind Serbia in its UEFA World Cup qualifying group and needed wins versus Turkey (3-1) and North Macedonia (2-0) to book its ticket to Qatar.
How Switzerland got here: Switzerland bested No. 6-ranked Italy in UEFA World Cup Qualifying play in Group C to automatically punch its ticket to Qatar. The No. 15-ranked Swiss notched one-score victories over both Cameroon (1-0) and Serbia (3-2) during Group G play to finish second behind Brazil, and it advanced to the knockout stage due to stellar defensive play.
Key stats to know: Portugal boasts one of the most talented offenses at the 2022 World Cup with its ability to both create individual chances and also rack up set-piece opportunities. Portugal was one of only three teams alongside Argentina and Poland to earn two penalties in the group stage, and the Portuguese were the only side to score on both of those kicks. The Portuguese also ranked in the top 10 with 1.54 expected goals per 90 minutes during group play and ranked in the top five with 1.33 assists per 90 minutes. Scoring chances will come at a premium against an above-average Switzerland defense, but Ronaldo and company have the talent necessary to break through down the stretch and score.
Players to watch: Midfielders Bruno Fernandes Bernardo Silva (Portugal) and forward Breece Embolo (Switzerland). While all eyes will surely be on Cristiano Ronaldo Tuesday, his pair of 28-year-old teammates have the potential to make the difference if Portugal is to advance into the quarterfinals. Fernandes of Machester United leads Portugal with three shots on target and three assists through three matches, and ranks second on his team with three chances created. Silva of Machester City leads Portugal with four chances created according to fotmob.com, and ranks third on the team with 132 passes and a 90% pass success rate. The Swiss defense will certainly be focused on Ronaldo from start to finish here, so it will be up to both Fernandes and Silva to either create chances for their teammates or find the net themselves in this match. The Swiss will rely on the talented 25-year-old forward Embolo of Monaco here if they are to advance. Embolo has scored two of Switzerland’s four goals in this tournament so far and is second in the entire World Cup field in expected goals per game (2.21), behind only French star and World Cup-leading goalscorer Kylian Mbappé
What to expect: This will be 27th all-time meeting between Portugal and Switzerland, with the Swiss holding a slight all-time record advantage of 11-9-6. Portugal has won two of the teams’ past three meetings by a combined score of 7-2, but it was Switzerland who won the their last meeting 1-0 back on June 12, 2022. It will be a clash of styles on the pitch at Education City Stadium in this one, as Switzerland looks to protect its back-half against a talented array of Portuguese strikers. Portugal’s defense has been suspect at best in this tournament, but the Swiss haven’t done much on offense either outside of a 3-2 win against Serbia. Elite talent should reign supreme here in the end and result in a Portugal victory here, although don’t discount the impact of the young Breece Embolo of Switzerland if he’s able to penetrate the Portuguese back line early and often in this contest. A high-scoring, back-and-forth affair here favors Portugal, while a slowed-down, grind-it-out defensive game would surely benefit the Swiss.
Match history: Portugal and Switzerland are no strangers to international competition, as they have played against the other plenty in the UEFA Nations League. The teams split their last two meetings, both of which came within one week in June. Portugal won the first contest 4-0 in dominating fashion while Switzerland eked out a 1-0 shutout win in the second game.
World Cup history: Portugal has reached the knockout stage for the fourth time in its past five World Cup trips, although three of those four appearances resulted in Round of 16 losses. Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese’s deepest tournament run came all the way back in 2006, when they reached the semifinals before losing 1-0 to France. Ronaldo, who has already admitted that this will be his final campaign on the big stage, will compete in his 21st World Cup match when Portugal plays in the Round of 16. The now 37-year-old global icon of Manchester United has amassed eight goals and two assists over five total World Cup appearances. Switzerland, over 12 World Cup appearances, has reached the quarterfinals just three times in 1934, 1938, and 1954. The Swiss have lost three straight Round of 16 matches including defeats in both 2014 (to Argentina, 1-0 in extra time) and in 2018 (to Sweden, 1-0). Switzerland also lost in the Round of 16 back in 2006 to Ukraine, and has now made five straight World Cup trips.
Chris Dell’s Prediction: Portugal 2, Switzerland 1
Round of 16/Knockout Stage Schedule
Tuesday, Dec. 6
- Who: Morocco (No. 22) vs. Spain (No. 7)
- When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Education City Stadium (Doha, Qatar)
- Who: Portugal (No. 9) vs. Switzerland (No. 15)
- When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Lusail Iconic Stadium (Lusail, Qatar)
Quarterfinals/Knockout Stage Schedule
Friday, Dec. 9
- Who: Netherlands (No. 8) vs. Argentina (No. 3)
- When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Lusail Iconic Stadium (Lusail, Qatar)
- Who: Brazil (No. 1) vs. Croatia (No. 12)
- When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Education City Stadium (Doha, Qatar)
Saturday, Dec. 10
- Who: England (No. 5) vs. France (No. 4)
- When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Al Bayt Stadium (Al Khor, Qatar)
- Who: Portugal/Switzerland winner vs. Spain/Morocco winner
- When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Al Thumama Stadium (Doha, Qatar)