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Portugal v Switzerland
Prior to a trip to Spain, Portugal have won seven of nine matches since Euro 2020. A draw away in Ireland and a defeat at home to Serbia didn’t however prove costly, with World Cup qualification achieved via the play-offs. Still, given the lack of quality opponents during this run, including victories over the likes of Qatar twice, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg and North Macedonia, the host’s form isn’t quite as impressive as a first glance would suggest.
Only a late pair of goals from Cristiano Ronaldo saw Portugal snatch a victory when these two last met in June 2019, and Switzerland are certainly capable of squeezing out a result against the top sides. Since that encounter, the Swiss have faced either Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy or Spain on 12 occasions. Although they didn’t win any of these encounters, other than on penalties, they did manage to draw two thirds of them, while they only lost by more than a single goal just the once.
In addition, Switzerland aren’t without any major absentees, as Juventus’ Denis Zakaria is the most notable player to miss out. However, coping without his presence is something the Swiss are fairly used to, given he missed as many as eight of those 12 encounters against elite level opposition in any case.
Czech Republic v Spain
Spain have won seven of eight outings before hosting Portugal on Thursday, with the exception a narrow defeat to France, registering five clean sheets over this period as Italy and surprisingly Albania were the only other sides to find a way past their backline. However, their goal is rarely threatened when taking on weaker teams, who simply can’t get hold of the ball enough to hurt Luis Enrique’s side, and that’s especially the case on home turf.
Indeed, La Roja hold a W13-D4-L1 record on their own patch since June 2019, conceding just six goals across these 18 games, with two of those inflicted by France in that aforementioned defeat. Although this sample does include some much weaker sides in qualifiers, they have also shut out Sweden three times, Germany, Switzerland and Ukraine over this period.
There’s especially good reason to think that the Czech Republic will draw a blank here in the absence of star striker Patrik Schick. They Bayer Leverkusen marksman was influential with five goals from as many games at Euro 2020, only failing to score against England, leaving him level with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the charts for that tournament.
That poses a particular problem for the hosts given the lack of firepower elsewhere. West Ham midfielder Tomas Soucek has nine goals for his county, but the rest of the squad can only boast a total of 12 international goals between them. Spain may be without Aymeric Laporte at the back, but a likely partnership of Pau Torres and Eric Garcia should be enough to hold firm in this encounter.
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