A veritable clash of the titans, this match pits two FIFA World Cup title pretenders against each other right from the outset. Although the neighbouring nations are old foes, this will be only their second-ever meeting on football’s greatest stage, after a tense Round-of-16 duel in South Africa from which the Spaniards emerged victorious (1-0).
All in all, the two countries have met on 35 occasions, with Spain boasting 16 wins to Portugal’s six. La Roja, who had built up significant momentum prior to their arrival in Russia and appear to have found the perfect balance between youth and experience, may therefore have a slight psychological advantage, but it is as yet unclear what impact their decision to change coaches late in the day will have.
At the other end of the pitch, the reigning European champions, with Cristiano Ronaldo more determined than ever to make a mark on the tournament, are unlikely to come bearing gifts.
Team Reporter Analysis
Raquel Branco for Portugal
A Selecção das Quinas are ready to go toe-to-toe with Spain, a side their coach, Fernando Santos, describes as “the strongest team in the pool, on paper”. The Lusitanians have put in some solid work and, propelled by a determined Cristiano Ronaldo, are hopeful of putting the memory of their early elimination at Brazil 2014 behind them.
Antia Andre for Spain
Spain go into this encounter with the UEFA EURO 2016 winners full of confidence on the field. Previous results between the two teams auger well for the former world champions and their multitude of top-quality performers should have enough experience to overcome the surprise departure of Julen Lopetegui, unexpectedly replaced by Fernando Hierro. He who knows the Spanish national set-up like the back of his hand, though, and is a veteran of international tournaments.
Did you know?
While the fixture has all the makings of a high-octane duel, Spain have a very low statistical chance of having a man sent off against Portugal, because La Roja have only ever once ended a World Cup match with ten men. Miguel Angel Nadal – uncle of tennis champion Rafael – was the Spanish player who incurred the wrath of the referee, in the 25th minute of a 2-2 draw with Korea Republic on 17 June 1994.
Portugal: Rui Patricio; Raphael Guerreiro, Jose Fonte, Pepe, Cedric; Joao Mario, Joao Moutinho, William, Bernardo Silva; Cristiano Ronaldo, Goncalo Guedes
Spain: David De Gea; Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Nacho; Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara; Andres Iniesta, Isco, David Silva; Diego Costa