Key players to watch in Morocco vs Portugal

A quarter-final clash that many wouldn’t have predicted earlier this week, let alone at the beginning of the Qatar World Cup — with most tipping an Iberian Derby between Portugal and Spain to take place at Al Thumama Stadium on Saturday afternoon —ASelecao will now take on dark horses Morocco after the Atlas Lions stunned La Roja in the round of 16.

Fernando Santos’ men are the heavy favourites in the Morocco vs Portugal odds after blowing away Switzerland with a 6-1 win in the last round. However, they will need to be wary of Morocco as the African nation have already held 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia to a goalless draw before beating both world No.2 ranked side Belgium and Spain.

With that said, let’s take a look at four players — two from each nation — who could make the difference in their respective sides in this quarter-final matchup.

Goncalo Ramos

While Goncalo Ramos’ place in the starting XI might not be guaranteed despite his hattrick against the Swiss, as Cristiano Ronaldo might be granted his starting berth back for the quarters, it would be a harsh decision to leave the exciting 21-year-old out — after all, he already has more World Cup knockout goals than Ronaldo has managed in his whole career.

The Benfica talisman is in red-hot form, scoring 14 times and assisting six in 21 appearances for the Portuguese side this season. But Santos will be under extreme pressure to reinstate Ronaldo for this last eight game, so it be interesting to see what decision he will make. Maybe he can fit both in?

Hakim Ziyech

From a player who has translated his fantastic club form to the World Cup to a player who has rediscovered his brilliance in Qatar after a tough time at domestic level, Hakim Ziyech has played a massive role in helping Morocco reach this stage of the tournament despite a turbulent couple of years at Chelsea.

The 29-year-old, who likely wouldn’t even had travelled to the Middle East had the Atlas Lions not had a managerial change in August as he didn’t get on with former manager Vahid Halilhodžić, has a goal and an assist in four appearances and has made seven successful dribbles as well as four key passes. Portugal will need to find a way to keep him quiet.

Bruno Fernandes

With Ronaldo’s career coming to its end, it’s fair to say that the future of Portugal is in safe hands — with the aforementioned Ramos, Rafael Leao, Joao Felix, Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo just a few of the players who will ensure Selecaodas Quinaswill remain a top footballing side for years to come.

But the man waiting in the wings ready to step up and lead the side after Ronaldo’s swansong is arguably Bruno Fernandes. In fact, the 28-year-old midfielder is perhaps already proving to be Portugal’s star player, with two goals and three assists this far in the competition.

Achraf Hakimi

The man born in Madrid,Achraf Hakimi had ice running through his veins when he lined up the decisive spot kick against Spain in the round of 16 — beating Unai Simon with a coolly taken Panenka penalty right down the middle.

The 24-year-old Paris Saint-Germain man has had a fantastic tournament getting the assist for Youssef EnNesyri’s goal in the 2-1 win over Canada, while he’s helped Morocco keep three clean sheets in four games with 17 tackles, six interceptions and four clearances.