Predicted Portugal XI for clash with Switzerland, quotes from the players and route to the Nations League finals
The inaugural edition of the UEFA Nations League finals kicks off tomorrow in Porto, Portugal.
As the hosts of the first ever competition, Seleção supporters go into the contest full of optimism, already hungry to taste tournament success yet again after the surprise Euro 2016 triumph only three years ago.
With a team that is now stronger on paper and filled with attacking talent, that optimism is not misplaced, and by the weekend we will know if Portugal have added yet another piece of silverware to their trophy cabinet.
But standing in their way are tough opposition in Switzerland, and as manager Fernando Santos has been keen to point out, looking beyond that game is a recipe for disaster.
With a Swiss side that have already proven their attacking pedigree and have given Portugal several stern tests in the past, it would be naive to think Portugal have an easy route to the final.
Portugal and Switzerland - how they've got here
Portugal were handed a tricky draw in a bid to advance to this point in the competition.
Having to face both Italy and Poland, the group was even, and it was difficult to call which team would top the league, and which would ultimately suffer relegation.
With the additional prize of hosting the tournament for whoever won the group, there was further incentive to succeed.
Ultimately though, it was Portugal that finished 1st, with relative ease, all things considered.
After winning their first two matches of the group stage - an impressive 1-0 victory over Italy, followed by an exciting 3-2 win over Poland in the Polish city of Chorzów - Portugal knew that they couldn't be relegated with two games to spare and, after a tense 0-0 draw with Italy in Milan, became the first nation to secure their spot in the Nations League finals.
Switzerland, meanwhile, were scoring for fun in their run to the semis, beating Iceland 6-0 in their first match of the group stage.
They went into the final match of the group up against it though, finding themselves behind Belgium in the standings, knowing that they had to beat the World Cup semifinalists to leapfrog them in the table and qualify for the next round of the Nations League.
Ultimately, they found themselves 2-0 down after just 17 minutes, and very few would've been against Belgium going on to extend their lead after such a rapid start.
Even fewer would've expected Switzerland to be able to turn the game around and get the 3 goals they needed to advance.
And yet, by half time, that's exactly what they did, completely turning the game on its head thanks to a brace from Benfica's Haris Seferovic and a penalty from Ricardo Rodriguez. An astonishing comeback.
Belgium were likely still considered favourites, just a single goal all that was required to undo all of Switzerland's hard work, and yet it turned out to be quite the opposite, Elvedi extending Switzerland's lead to 4-2 with half an hour remaining before Seferovic cemented victory by sealing his hattrick in the closing stages.
Switzerland have already shown their free-scoring ability and their never-say-die attitude, and that ultimately makes them an incredibly menacing opponent.
Possible Portugal XI
Unlike Portugal's squad that was announced a couple of weeks ago, predicting how the Seleção will actually lineup against Switzerland is rather difficult, what with all the talent available in the attacking department.
The back five is predictable enough though; Rui Patricio will be the man between the sticks with João Cancelo, Ruben Dias, Pepe and Raphael Guerreiro very much expected to be the four in front of him.
In midfield, also expect to see Ruben Neves and William Carvalho rewarded with a starting berth, although the rest of the team ultimately depends on whether Fernando Santos opts for a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation.
Regardless of formation, you can expect Bernardo Silva to start out on the right, while Rafa Silva could be given the nod on the left, particularly if Santos goes with a 4-4-2.
Assuming that is the formation Santos chooses, up top will undoubtedly be Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 85 times for his country, but his strike partner is less certain. Will he go with experience and physicality in the shape of Braga striker Dyego Sousa? Or will he go with the complete opposite with youth and flair in Benfica forward João Felix?
While Felix would be many a person's first choice for that spot, ultimately his inexperience could deter Santos, particularly considering that this is a semifinal and not the place for experimentation. With that in mind, Diogo Jota could be the man Santos goes for; while also uncapped, with far more senior game time under his belt, he's certainly more experienced.
Predicted XI: Patricio; Cancelo, Pepe, Dias, Guerreiro; Bernardo, Neves, Carvalho, Rafa; Ronaldo, Jota.
What the players have said
Several players have been speaking in the buildup to the game.
Pepe discussed the importance of the home support, saying "On Wednesday, I'm sure everyone will be there to support the Seleção, to push our team to victory," while he also paid tribute to the “spectacular atmosphere” between the group of players. Gonçalo Guedes, meanwhile, remained professional, stating that "we are only focused on the game against Switzerland."
Diogo Jota also spoke with great maturity, stating: "More important than being a starter is knowing that we are all here to help the team", mentioning how the whole side are "very united".
João Moutinho spoke in a similar vein, mentioning that "all the players that are here want to make a contribution to the national team."
He continued: "We all want to win this trophy. To win titles with the Seleção, like in 2016, is always the source of enormous pride."
Bruno Alves has also been speaking about his future with the national team having been left out. Having had a terrific season with Parma, Alves said: "I always have hope [of getting called up]. I'm still active, I've had a pretty good campaign individually, and I'm always prepared to help. If I can't help in the team, I'll help from afar. The manager (Fernando Santos) is the one who has to make the decisions.
"I naturally have to accept it. I totally agree with the decision. I do not have negative feelings, only positive ones."
Form and head-to-head record
Portugal, perhaps surprisingly, actually have a rather poor record against Switzerland historically. Having played against Switzerland 22 times in their history, Portugal have only won 7 times, losing on 10 occasions and drawing the other 5 meetings.
In their last 3 matches against the Swiss, Portugal have won once - a 2-0 victory in the World Cup 2018 qualifiers - and lost twice - losing by the same scoreline in the World Cup qualifiers back in 2016, just after their Euros success, and again 2-0 in the 2008 European Championship group stage.
However, looking at just the last 10 meetings, Portugal's record becomes more respectable; 4 wins, 3 draws, and just 3 defeats too.
Additionally, Portugal haven't actually lost against Switzerland whilst playing in Portugal since 1969.
But history really tells us very little; more important is the here and now.
Portugal, as we know, come into this match off the back of two disappointing home draws against Ukraine (0-0) and Serbia (1-1), which has made their bid to qualify for Euro 2020 rather precarious.
Meanwhile, Switzerland come into this match with a more comfortable position in their own Euro 2020 qualifying group, having most recently beaten Georgia 2-0 in Tbilisi, following that up with an enthralling 3-3 home draw with Denmark.
The scoreline only tells you so much though; indeed, Switzerland were cruising in that match, leading by 3 goals, scoring their 3rd in the 76th minute, supposedly all but sealing an impressive victory.
However, an astonishing last-gasp comeback from Denmark, scoring in the 84th, 88th and 93rd minute, meant that Switzerland ultimately somehow threw away a comfortable lead.
What's at stake
A spot in the final, and a place in the history books. The winner will ultimately forever go down as one of the first two teams to compete in a UEFA Nations League final and will get the chance to compete for the inaugural prize.
The opponents waiting for the victor will be either England, or The Netherlands.
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