Portugal’s reward for topping Group A on goal difference is a semi-final against Copa América champions Chile, who finished second in Group B after 1-1 draws against Australia and Germany in FIFA Confederations Cup.
Fernando Santos’ team secured top spot with a convincing 4-0 win over the weakest side in the tournament, New Zealand, who have now lost five matches this month.
Portugal took the lead against Mexico twice in their Confederations Cup opening fixture and looked to have stolen all three points somewhat fortuitously when Southampton right-back Cédric Soares scored his first international goal but Héctor Moreno popped up with a last-gasp leveller for Mexico.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s headed goal gave them a narrow 1-0 win over hosts Russia in their second game before they rounded things off by hammering the Kiwis. All told, things have gone as expected so far for Portugal.
They will play Chile without Raphaël Guerreiro, who limped off against Russia with an expected broken leg. Eliseu has filled in for Guerreiro at left-back in a team that has changed a lot over their three matches so far.
Cristiano Ronaldo has started all three games – and won man of the match awards for all three – but as many as 18 different players have earned starts from Santos.
André Silva and Bernardo Silva should keep their places for the semi-final after fine performances against New Zealand, with William Carvalho and André Gomes at risk of losing out.
Chile, meanwhile, haven’t really lived up to expectations. They won just one of their group games, against Cameroon, and took 82 minutes to break their resolve. They had to come from behind to earn a 1-1 draw with Australia and were riled by Australia’s physical, high-pressing approach. Santos will have taken note.
While Portugal have a number of exciting young players to choose from, this Chile squad is short of depth with very few emerging talents to inspire great confidence. So far only one player under the age of 27 – defender Paulo Díaz – has started a game for Chile.
All eyes will be on Alexis Sánchez, whose goal against Germany was his 31st this season, and Cristiano Ronaldo, whose penalty against New Zealand was his 55th goal in 54 matches this season.
Sánchez has moved ahead of Marcelo Salas as Chile’s all-time top goalscorer, while Ronaldo is just two short of Pelé’s 77 goals for Brazil.
Whoever has the edge on Wednesday may just decide what is likely to be a tight affair.
By Martin Lawrence