Ronaldo decision revitalised Portugal
Goncalo Ramos struck hat-trick v Swiss
Heroic Morocco have fitness concerns
Morocco v Portugal
Saturday 10 December, 15:00
Live on ITV
We're down to the last eight of the World Cup, and without wanting to patronise, Morocco are already winners. They have made an unprecedented run to the quarter-finals, and with thousands of passionate fans attending their games, they have felt more like the tournament hosts than Qatar ever did.
Of course, they won't want the journey to end here, and they have performed admirably so far. Coach Walid Regragui was only hired in late August, after the irascible Vahid Halihodzic was dismissed, but he swiftly found a gameplan which has been hugely successful.
Morocco have defended diligently, with centre-backs Nayef Aguerd and Romain Saiss protected from midfield by the tireless Sofyan Amrabat, and goalkeeper Yassine Bounou has been rock-solid. Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui provide a counter-attacking threat from full-back, and both Sofiane Boufal and Hakim Ziyech have shown what gifted technical players they are.
However, there are signs of wear and tear. Saiss and Aguerd both picked up injuries against Spain, as the Atlas Lions knocked out one of the tournament favourites on penalties after a goalless draw. Several other players are believed to be battling through the pain barrier.
Portugal's outlook was totally transformed by Fernando Santos' decision to drop captain Cristiano Ronaldo for the last-16 clash with Switzerland. His decision to replace the country's record scorer with Benfica tyro Goncalo Ramos reaped rewards, as Ramos netted a memorable hat-trick in a storming 6-1 win.
It seems absurd to suggest that a player of Ronaldo's quality and track record harms the team, but it's hard to argue otherwise when they produce such a free and dynamic performance without him.
If you look at Morocco's 0-0 draw with Spain, a lack of gear changes from La Roja cost them dearly, as they lacked the guile and the speed to open the North Africans up. It was possession for possessions' sake, and Regragui's men kept them at bay comfortably. I expect this to be a bit different - Portugal have the ingenuity of Bernardo Silva and the dynamism of Bruno Fernandes and the likes of Ramos, Felix and Rafael Leao can conjure up a piece of magic.
Morocco are pushing themselves to the limit, and key players like Saiss and Aguerd are carrying injuries. I think Portugal can find a way to break them down, so I'll back them -1.0 on the Asian Handicap here at 2.3211/8. A Portuguese goal will force Morocco to come out, and I think Santos' men could then do further damage.