With the club season behind us in most of Europe, football has a final flourish before a brief summer break with a slate of international fixtures including, in Portugal, the final stages of the Europa League. The first semi-final features the hosts playing against surprise package Switzerland. Bowled out of the World Cup in the last 16 by Sweden just a year ago, the Swiss came through a group featuring Iceland and Belgium to be involved here. Although their squad looks a lot less impressive than that of the other semi-finalists, Vladimir Petkovic’s men have grown used to subverting expectations.
Portugal are, nonetheless, obvious favourites to progress. They welcome Cristiano Ronaldo back to their squad, after a Nations League group stage where his services were not required. The defending European Champions finished ahead of Italy and Poland, and are marginal favourites to win the inaugural version of this trophy. They are set to give a senior international debut to Benfica tyro Joao Felix, who notched 20 goals in his first full season for his club and is now very much on the radar of Europe’s top sides.
Portugal vs Switzerland Prediction: Portugal 2-1 Switzerland
Home advantage is certainly a boost for the Portuguese selection, who have stumbled since winning Euro 2016. Like the Swiss, they bowed out in the first round of knockout games at last summer’s World Cup – and their Nations League showing so far has been good enough without ever really catching light. Pairing the veteran Ronaldo with Joao Felix in attack may be enough to give them that extra cutting edge that was missing all too often in draws with Poland and Italy. They face an opponent here that will be disciplined and opportunistic, and will need to make the most of the few openings they get, but are rightly favourites to do so.
Our recommended tip: Both Teams To Score
With the blend of experience and youthful exuberance in their front line, and the inexhaustible brilliance of Bernardo Silva in midfield, Portugal certainly have the combination they need to create and exploit opportunities; indeed, with a free-scoring striker like Felix in the set-up, they might have got further in Russia. That said, they’ll need to be constantly vigilant against a Swiss side whose first XI confounds expectations on the regular. To look at the names on their team sheet, you’d consider them to be roughly on a par with a mid-table Premier League side, but they defeated Belgium 5-2 to secure their place here; they’re no mugs, and should score. Betway have priced BTTS at Evens, and that’s a bet worth making.
These sides were placed together in Group B of the qualification round for World Cup 2018, and were separated only by goal difference (Portugal’s was markedly better) after they finished level on points and split the head-to-head contests. The first game, in Basel, saw the home side deliver a shock defeat to the newly-crowned European champions, winning 2-0 with goals from Breel Embolo and Admir Mehmedi. Just over a year later, in October 2017, Portugal won by the same margin in Lisbon. A first-half own goal by Johann Djourou was augmented just before the hour by Andre Silva. As we’ve said, home advantage is good news for Portugal.
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Players to watch: Bernardo Silva & Xherdan Shaqiri
While the attention will always follow Ronaldo, and allowing for the fact that on his day he can win a match single-handed, he’s not the player to fixate on here. Bernardo, who has made himself undroppable at Manchester City, could play a much more crucial role. As the Swiss tactical approach tonight will undoubtedly be to compress space, it will take the former Monaco man’s touch, vision and dribbling ability to break the opposition down. If Portugal can get the ball to him early and often, they’ll stand a much better chance of creating chances.
On the Swiss side of things, Shaqiri arrives in Porto fresh from not leaving the bench as his club won the Champions League. An often frustrating season at Liverpool ended with a medal in his luggage, and – if he starts here – he’s Switzerland’s best shot at unlocking the Portuguese defence. The former Stoke man started just eleven games in the league for his club this season, but at least he should be relatively fresh where most of the players involved will be looking forward to a summer holiday.