Tue | Nov 28, 2023

One step forward for Portugal today?

Published:Saturday | December 10, 2022 | 12:43 AMHubert Lawrence/Gleaner Writer
Portugal’s Pepe.
Portugal’s Pepe.

Xavier Gilbert, the Excelsior High and Jamaica coach, thinks in-form Portugal must resolve two issues if the team is to have the upper hand against Morocco in their World Cup quarter final today in Qatar.

One concerns veteran Portuguese defender Pepe.

“I don’t think it’s going to be easy, and the Moroccans would be oozing with confidence after their win against Spain and it’s probably going to be similar tactics to hold them out and hopefully, they can catch them on the counter and hopefully their best player, Hakim Ziyech, who plays for Chelsea, could come up trumps,” Gilbert cited during an interview on Thursday.

Born and raised in Brazil, Pepe has played for Portugal since his debut in 2007. He has played at four FIFA World Cups and was part of the team that won the 2016 European Championships. He is also well known for having a short fuse and was famously sent off for head butting Germany’s Thomas Muller in the 2014 World Cup.

“From time to time, he tends to get a bit erratic, and they might set up tactics against him,” Gilbert said.

The other issue Gilbert thinks Portuguese coach Fernando Santos must resolve is how to deploy team captain Cristiano Ronaldo, after Goncalo Ramos started in his place against Switzerland and scored three times in a 6-1 victory.

“Do they go back to the man who gave you the hat-trick, Ramos, or do they go with Cristiano Ronaldo this time?” he questioned.

Morocco have only conceded one goal and survived a penalty shootout with Spain to reach the quarters. Gilbert figures that Santos will need the 37-year-old Ronaldo on the field if today’s match gets to that stage. If you start him and it goes for 120 minutes, I don’t think he will last, but definitely you want him on the field for him to step up and take a penalty,” Gilbert said of the man who has already scored from the spot in Qatar.

The Excelsior technical director hedged before putting the Portuguese into his notional semi-final draw because Morocco have been so frugal.

“Sometimes the defence frustrates the opposition, then mentally, you get the better of them when it goes to the penalty shootout,” he said from studying so many games at home and abroad.

Then, with the Portuguese scoring 12 goals in Qatar versus four by the Moroccans, Gilbert said, “The reality is, based on what we have seen in the World Cup so far, the offensive threat of the Portuguese is superior to the Moroccans, but they are so solid in defence that it can go either way.”

One doubt for Moroccan coach Walid Regragui is left back Nayef Aguerd who took a knock in the Switzerland game.

Asked for a last word, Gilbert voted, “it’s a tough one to call and I’m leaning towards Portugal.”