Ronaldo & Co only have eyes on the Finals prize

Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo is all smiles in training ahead of today's final qualifying home match against Group B leaders Switzerland. Only a win will do for the European champions.
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo is all smiles in training ahead of today's final qualifying home match against Group B leaders Switzerland. Only a win will do for the European champions.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LISBON • Portugal can book their ticket to Russia with victory over Switzerland at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon today.

Both teams will then finish on 27 points after their final Group B European qualifying match, but Portugal will avoid the play-offs because of their superior goal difference.

A win would also give the Portuguese sweet revenge against a Swiss side who won the reverse fixture 2-0 in Basel, a match in which their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo was unavailable.

Portugal manager Fernando Santos had said following that defeat: "There's only one thing to do now. That is to win, win and win again until the end of qualification."

The European champions have won eight in a row since and are primed to fulfil Santos' prediction today, noted PortuGOAL.net.

They have plundered 30 goals in the process, with Real Madrid star Ronaldo scoring half of them, including the opener in the 2-0 win over Andorra on Saturday after coming off the bench at half-time.

The forward, though, is unlikely to have it all easy against Switzerland, who have won all of their nine qualifying games, scoring 23 goals along the way.

Switzerland also kept six clean sheets in a row before the 5-2 win against Hungary on Saturday.

"The game with Portugal is almost like a World Cup final for me," Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka told Fifa.com. "It's a unique situation that only rarely arises in qualifying. If you win, you're heroes. But if you don't, then you're losers. That might sound harsh but that's the way it is.

"All the games we've won up until now are irrelevant, which makes us want the points we need even more.

"We're not going into the game looking to defend for 90 minutes, that's just not our style. We want to play football and show we can be bold.

"But yes, Portugal have to make the running; only a win will do for them. That could play to our advantage. We're in a comfortable position and can bide our time, and perhaps hit them on the break.

After the win in Andorra, Santos said: "The game versus Switzerland is not a question of revenge. It's a question of winning it. We'll win it."

Portugal's supporters certainly hope that will be the case.

But Switzerland are a highly organised team with talented individuals and know a draw will be enough to secure their place at Russia 2018.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PORTUGAL V SWITZERLAND

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2017, with the headline 'Ronaldo & Co only have eyes on the Finals prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe