Morocco vs Spain
Luis Enrique is the coolest coach in town with his Guardiola-like high-fashion look of chinos and full-sleeve round-neck tees in solid colours. He cycled in the Spanish mountains while announcing his World Cup squad and runs a Twitch vlog alongside his coaching duties. But Enrique is also single-minded, his operating style the most important, the results sometimes become secondary as the Spanish coach nitpicks about the system his team should play.
“Spain must do what it proposes in each game. We have a very clear idea; we are not going to change it throughout the championship. although that does not mean that we always have to dominate,” the former Barcelona coach reiterated in the pre-game media interaction.
SCHEDULE FOR ROUND OF 16 MATCHDAY 4
Morocco vs Spain – Education City stadium – December 6, 8:30 PM
Portugal vs Switzerland – Lusail stadium – December 7, 12:30 PM
Timings in IST
The penchant to play from the back has already cost him dear, goalkeeper Unai Simon slipping in an own goal at the EURO against Croatia and was again at fault for Japan’s opening goal in the 2-1 loss. Morocco with its speedy full-back pairing of Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui will look to exploit this tendency and press the Spanish ‘keeper and the defence hard to win the early balls in the opposition half.
Spain’s worry might be compounded further if the experienced Cesar Azpilicueta misses out because of a calf injury but Dani Carvajal can be an able deputy at right-back. Dani Olmo also was absent from the training session, but Enrique will surely recall Ferran Torres and Jordi Alba to the starting XI after the duo sat out the Japan game. Alvaro Morata with three goals in three games will feel confident of retaining his place and give Spain a sturdier goal-scoring threat against Morocco, which has conceded just once in its three games.
“Each match is a final for us, and we will create a surprise against Spain,” Morocco manager Walid Regragui said in his pre-match press conference. “Spain has the experience that we don’t have in the World Cup. It’s a game we haven’t played in 36 years. We can go down in history. It’s worth giving the maximum and having no regrets. It’s the most important game in our history.”
Enrique, despite the array of talents in his squad, acknowledged Morocco’s well-worked defence won’t be easy to crack. His philosophy for the game, however, remains simple. “The objective from the beginning is to play seven games. I buy the complete package both winning and losing. Football is a very complex sport. If you lose for whatever reason… well, we will congratulate the opponent himself and nothing happens,” he said.
Spain enjoyed 82 per cent possession in the 7-0 win over Costa Rica and 83 per cent in the loss to Japan but has won just 13 corners in its three group games, showcasing its reluctance to play long balls in the opposition box. Morocco, as well, would be happy to cede possession and wait for the Spanish to make mistakes.
Portugal vs Switzerland
Speculation regarding the future of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and his outburst following his substitution against South Korea were in sharp focus on Monday ahead of its World Cup last-16 game against Switzerland.
The forward, who left Manchester United by mutual consent last month following a controversial interview, was linked with a potential move to Saudi Arabia but Portugal coach Fernando Santos said he knew nothing about it.
“I have not spoken to him about this,” Santos told a news conference ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Swiss. “I don’t know about this. It is his decision. I did not even know about this and I heard about this when I arrived here.”
Ronaldo’s future is unclear with several clubs around the world reportedly interested in signing him.
“We are focused on the World Cup. I don’t know anything about this other issue,” the coach said.
Santos had to continue answering questions about his player, however, including his outburst following his substitution in the final group match against South Korea with Ronaldo having said it was not directed at his coach but triggered by an opponent’s comment.
“Yes, I did not like it, not at all. I really did not like it and from that moment on that issue is finished,” Santos said.
The coach also refused to comment on speculation back home about whether Ronaldo would feature in his lineup against the Swiss on Tuesday or would start on the bench.
“I do not read this type of information. I am focused on my team. We are focusing on training and not paying attention to any polls,” Santos said. “What I have always done is focus on the immediate match. I am not worried if information is right or wrong.”
For Santos, what is important is Portugal reaching the last eight for the first time since 2006.
“There has been a long hiatus…. what matters is this match. Portugal always have the obligation to win,” said Santos, who has been in charge since 2014.
“For us it is good to feel this pressure. We want it and we really want to win. After each game, if you win the game you are closer to being a favourite,” he added.