It wasn’t so long ago — six years, to be exact — that French football had disgraced itself with a group-stage exit (finishing 29th of 32 nations) and a locker room blow-up for the ages at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Nicolas Anelka said some extremely unsavory things to then-manager Raymond Domenech and was ultimately banished from the national program forever; current French international Patrice Evra incited and led a squad-wide walk-out during a training session; Jean-Louis Valentin, who served as team director, resigned. All of this occurred before France’s final group game had been played. It was the unceremonious, ugly end of Thierry Henry’s legendary international career.
Now, buoyed by a generation of exuberant, relatable youngsters inching toward global superstardom, France finds itself back on the doorstep of footballing immortality: 90 (or 120) minutes away from being crowned champions of Europe for a record-tying third time (alongside Germany and Spain’s three titles).
Antoine Griezmann (6 goals) leads the EURO 2016 Golden Boot race by a wide margin, three ahead of a pair of teammates, Dimitri Payet and Olivier Giroud. We knew this France team would be a joy to watch, but Les Bleus have comfortably over-delivered on the excitement and champagne football expected of this tournament.
With Didier Deschamps finally settling on a Paul Pogba-Blaise Matuidi midfield-two, France have scored more goals (13) than any other side at EURO 2016. When Adil Rami found himself suspended for the quarterfinal victory over Iceland, 22-year-old Samuel Umtiti slotted into Rami’s starting center-back role and retained his place for the semifinal triumph over Germany. Powerful, dynamic and free-flowing on the attack; increasingly resolute and formidable in defense — goals conceded: four, in six games.
It wasn’t so long ago — or maybe it was; 12 years this week, to be exact — that a precocious, fleet-footed 19-year-old talent helped Portugal to the final of EURO 2004.
You’re probably familiar with his work by now. He is Cristiano Ronaldo, and he finds himself 90 short (or 120 long) minutes from a feat that would cement his already-safe place, beyond any reasonable argument, as one of the game’s all-time greats: leading Portugal to victory at a major tournament.
Forever intertwined with Lionel Messi in this inane “who’s the best player in the world?” debate (can’t we just enjoy and appreciate both of them without the need to assign their places in history before their careers are finished? … But Messi is the better player and inarguably the best of all time, for the record.), Sunday’s final in Paris presents Ronaldo an unlikely opportunity to temporarily or perhaps permanently one-up his El Clasico rival as the first (or only) of the two to win a major international tournament.
Messi has failed three summers in a row, driving him to retirement from the international game (for now, at least), leaving the door wide open for Ronaldo, who has also been close — back to the semifinals of EURO 2012 — since suffering defeat to Greece in that 2004 final in Lisbon.
Of the six players currently on three goals this tournament, Ronaldo and his Portuguese teammate Nani make up half of the non-French contingent. The 2016 squad, outside of the aforementioned ex-Manchester United wingers and 18-year-old midfielder Renato Sanches, lacks the typical flair of Portuguese teams of the past, instead opting for an ultra-disciplined approach that favors pragmatism and defensive solidity.
France will find it far more difficult to fashion scoring chances against Portugal than they have done throughout EURO 2016 so far. France will look to limit those of Portugal by pouring on the attacking pressure and pinning A Selecao inside their own half for prolonged periods. No matter which side comes out on top on Sunday, we’ll have an incredible story of perseverance and a legacy forever defined to celebrate and champion at full time.
Goncalo Ramos scored a hat trick as he started over Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal’s65-1 win over Switzerland in the World Cup Round of 16 on Tuesday.
Ramos also had an assist and Portugal mainstays Raphael Guerreiro, Raphael Leao, and Pepe also scored in the win. Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Dalot, and Joao Felix all had assists for the clinical EURO 2016 champions.
Portugal does Fernando Santos right, flashes title credentials
Pulling Cristiano Ronaldo out of the Starting XI for any reason is a gutsy move for a coach, but doing it for Portugal is even braver than doing it at a club.
But Fernando Santos did just that on Tuesday in a World Cup knockout round match, opting for a 21-year-old with just 33 minutes of national team playing time.
Goodness, did it work.
The EURO-winning boss saw Santos score three times and set up a Raphael Guerreiro goal as Portugal steamrolled Switzerland and moved within two wins of a World Cup final.
Ramos scored a goal and an assist against Nigeria in his most extensive senior action for Portugal, but he had yet to start a match for Santos’ side.
Portugal has seven players on its squad from the team that won EURO and will now like its chances as the favorite against plucky and in-form Morocco. Then it would be England or France for a berth in the final.
Say what you will about Ronaldo not starting but he’s a heck of a player to come off the bench. Ruben Neves (9 mins),
Ruben Neves (3 mins) and Joao Cancelo (0 mins) were among the players who didn’t have to hit the pitch or do much more than stretch their legs.
There really isn’t a reason for Portugal to stop dreaming big.
How to watch Portugal vs Switzerland live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 2pm ET, Tuesday Dec. 6 Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail TV channels en Español: Telemundo Streaming en Español:Peacock (all 64 matches)
Key storylines, players to watch closely
Portugal’s complete team is something to behold as Ruben Dias, Ruben Neves, and Bruno Fernandes give the side a robust spine that can be topped just as robustly by Cristiano Ronaldo when the great player is at his best in terms of defying the age 37.
The Swiss have seen Breel Embolo as a threat up top but the backs and midfield have so many tough nuts to crack with Granit Xhaka operating atop Manuel Akanji and Fabian Schar.
Portugal quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 9
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs
Coach: Fernando Santos
Key players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Cancelo
Switzerland quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 15
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 12
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Murat Yakin
Key players: Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Yann Sommer, Remo Freuler
The United States men’s national team had, if we’re honest, the sort of World Cup we expected in Qatar this winter.
Gregg Berhalter’s Yanks came out of the group stage before losing to a superior program in the Round of 16, delivering a performance that was always energetic, at times naive, and at no point a real disservice to the USMNT’s reputation.
But the devil’s in the details, and the federation will have to dissect not whether the team could’ve done better this month, but whether it should’ve provided better performances.
There were absolute successes, like how the team got better in each successive game of the group stage. And how it’s stars — Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams — were mostly utilized in the best manners possible for their talents. Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, Tim Ream, and Tim Weah all had arguably the best USMNT stretches of their careers. That’s all real.
But there were also pitfalls. A timid side was bossed by inferior Wales at times in the second half of the tournament-opening 1-1 draw. Weston McKennie was uneven and missed multiple chances to give the U.S. a lead against England. And the rotation Berhalter talked about so often during qualifying was almost non-existent, leading to a team that looked cooked and borderline burnt out at times of the tournament-ender against the Netherlands.
What does it all mean for the program? That’s down to the powers-that-be, but we’ll let you know how we feel each player did, by minutes played, in Qatar. And maybe, as an aside, we can stop worrying about “changing how the world sees American soccer” and just worry about tangible deliverables.
USA player ratings out of 10: How did USMNT do at World Cup?
Sean Johnson: N/A (0 minutes)
Ethan Horvath: N/A (0 minutes)
Joe Scally: N/A (0 minutes) — What could this team have done against the Netherlands by finding a little more rest for Dest and Robinson? Berhalter clearly didn’t think they could get to the knockouts without them, and they were great. But they were also dead by the end of it and Scally’s play for club said he could’ve sidled up to the sub’s table just fine.
Aaron Long: N/A (0 minutes) — Glad he got to a World Cup, and slightly surprised Berhalter didn’t plug him into the lineup instead of CCV vs Iran (The decision was good, just surprising).
Cristian Roldan: N/A (0 minutes)
Jordan Morris: N/A (14 minutes)
Shaq Moore: N/A (20 minutes)
DeAndre Yedlin:N/A (31 minutes)
Kellyn Acosta: N/A (40 minutes)
Jesus Ferreira: N/A (45 minutes) — It would feel cruel to grade Ferreira on his 45 minutes against the Netherlands, as he was asked to lead the line at center forward while making his World Cup debut in a match that would be his first in front of a crowd since his FC Dallas season ended on Oct. 24. Will Ferreira be able to rise above or along with Haji Wright, Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi, and a host of new faces to make it two World Cup rosters? His career in MLS has given him the base for it.
Giovanni Reyna: N/A (57 minutes) — The tournament had been crying out for a combination player like Reyna (or Aaronson) but Berhalter felt he was getting enough out of Tim Weah and a rotating cast of center forwards plus Brenden Aaronson off the bench. It’s a shame that we’ll have to wonder if he could’ve done something with Wales pressing for an equalizer and looking unthreatened in the opener, or starting with Weah at center forward versus the Dutch. If Gregg Berhalter’s going to remain in charge — and who knows if the coach is even interested in that? — he’s got a huge task in re-earning the faith of a player who should be Pulisic-level important in 2026 if he wasn’t already.
Cameron Carter-Vickers: 7 (90 minutes) — The Celtic star did what he was asked to do against Iran: keep and move the ball, and bully someone every once in a while. It will be interesting to see if a new coach values the big back more than he’s been valued by Berhalter, as CCV was one of Celtic’s Player of the Season candidates in their SPL run last season.
Brenden Aaronson: 6.5 (105 minutes) — The Leeds man wasn’t bad at all. You can see why he’s valued by Berhalter as a super sub but Aaronson also feels like a player who should be needling opponents from the opening whistle. He’s a card-conjurer. Could he be one of two Aaronsons on the 2026 team?
Haji Wright: 6.5 (135 minutes) — There were good moments and bad ones for the Antalyaspor center forward, the best clearly being his goal to bring the Yanks within one against the Netherlands. What is the future with the program for the 24-year-old Wright? You could see him starting another four years or dropping further back on the radar, but let’s celebrate a big, strong young man who went from LA Galaxy academy to New York Cosmos to Schalke to four other European clubs in order to make a World Cup roster.
Josh Sargent: 6.5 (163 minutes) — The argument’s there if you want it: Sargent’s better when he’s running around like a maniac at Norwich City and either helping wreak havoc with a Teemu Pukki type or doing the grunt work for Milot Rashica. But Sargent showed himself to be an adequate hold-up man for the USMNT and he’s certainly maturing by the game for club and country. It seems likely he starts against Netherlands if not for the ankle injury that hampered him all week. Where will he (and Norwich) be when 2026 arrives on Planet Earth?
Weston McKennie: 6 (275 minutes) — The enduring tournament questions for “What if” types will be how the Round of 16 game would’ve shaken out if Pulisic buries his chance in the 3rd minute, and how the 0-0 draw with England might’ve ended had McKennie not failed to convert two chances including an early one that was close to gimme status. McKennie, at times, has been the team’s heart and engine. His passion seeps into the room and onto the pitch. But fitness and sharpness kept him from being above his average and — perhaps — the Yanks from winning the group.
Walker Zimmerman: 7 (278 minutes) — Yes, the penalty conceded to Gareth Bale was poor. But Zimmerman has been shining on big stages at every stop of his career since he was running Dallas’ back line with Matt Hedges. His 15 clearances — what he was there for — rank Top 20 in the tournament and his 13 completed long balls show just how far his passing’s come since his early days in MLS.
Sergino Dest: 7 (309 minutes) — Again let’s not let the recency bias of his very poor defending against home nation the Dutch gloss over a sensational group stage. Dest had his two best games in a U.S. shirt versus England and Iran, keeping talented wings honest while also holding it down at the back. He finished just ahead of Robinson and Musah with the most successful dribbles on the team with five.
Christian Pulisic: 8 (315 minutes) — Fouled an almost absurd 11 times over 315 minutes, the Pennsylvanian Pulisic earned his moments in the sun and paid for them with a hospital visit to treat a pelvic contusion. Pulisic will lament having a third-minute shot saved by the Dutch, but he had a hand in three of the Yanks’ goals, which — checks notes — were all of their goals. Led the team in goal contributions, assists, and key passes, finishing behind only Adams in duels won.
Timothy Weah: 7 (320 minutes) — If Weah was playing center forward, we might have to ding him for a failure to convert some difficult chances. But the Lille wide man — often used as a sort of right mid by Paulo Fonseca — was explosive and his goal against Wales one of the finer in recent USMNT memory. Weah was especially tidy in the passing game for a winger, and his work on the right worked oh-so-well with Dest to give left backs a tremendous amount of headaches.
Yunus Musah: 7.5 (345 minutes) — Out of gas by the end of the Netherlands tilt, yes. But did any player do more for his transfer value in this tournament than Musah? The Valencia man will have certainly impressed clubs in his home nation of England, as his ball progression was exceptional and he snapped into eight tackles, too. By the way, he left his teenage years in the middle of the tournament. We may see him for another three World Cup cycles.
Antonee Robinson: 8 (359 minutes) — It’s going to be difficult for readers eyeballing this piece close to the final whistle of the Netherlands loss to see the ‘8’ and not think of Robinson completely losing his way on the third Dutch goal, but it would be a shame to shade the perception of his tournament. “Jedi” was a relentless and critical part of the program’s success in Qatar and looks very much like the best left-sided defender in the program since… Eddie Lewis and DaMarcus Beasley were jostling for ownership of the wingback position? His seven interceptions show a wise reader of the game who is now more than electricity and industry.
Matt Turner: 7 (360 minutes) — Not gonna lie: There were moments against Wales — mostly in ball control — that had us doubting the decision to leave Zack Steffen home (nothing against Ethan Horvath or Sean Johnson). But that was a thing of the past as Turner’s skill as a shot-stopper, something we knew about, was joined by a vast improvement in distribution since we saw him leave New England for Arsenal. Love another college soccer player working his way to USMNT starter, too, don’t we?
Tim Ream: 8 (360 minutes) — He
Think about that. Fulham’s Ream combined with club and country teammate Robinson to make the left side a very strong side until the late stages versus Holland. His 274 passes led the team, his 16 long balls trailed only Adams and Turner, and his 11 clearances were only four fewer than Zimmerman’s team-best total. The U.S. has a long history of funny paths to the team and Ream’s career journey, long-term and short-term, is almost as good a tale as Steve Cherundolo and Jay DeMerit.
Tyler Adams: 8 — 360 minutes — Made arguably one significant mistake over the whole tournament and it helped Memphis Depay score the Netherlands’ first goal, but don’t let recency bias cloud your judgment of the captain and player most likely to captain the side on home soil in 2026. The Leeds United man led the team in tackles with 11 and handled off-field controversy like a 35-year-old veteran. Health will be wealth for the MLS-grown wonderboy.
Japan, Australia and Morocco made the last 16 with so many huge shocks during the tournament, while Germany, Denmark and Belgium all crashed out in the group stage.
From the USMNT and England getting out of their group to Lionel Messi dragging Argentina through and Mexico just missing out on getting out of the group stages and amid upsets galore, there are plenty of intriguing games in the latter stages.
Yassine Bounou stopped three Spain penalties after making just one save over 120 minutes of Morocco’s 0-0 (3-0 pens) win in the World Cup Round of 16 on Tuesday at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan.
Achraf Hakimi sealed the penalties when he joined Abdelhamid Sabiri and Hakim Ziyech in converting his chance — Unai Simon did stop Badr Banoune’s attempt — and Morocco sealed a place in the quarterfinals versus the winner of Portugal vs Switzerland. The Atlas Lions are the first World Cup quarterfinalist since Ghana beat the United States in the 2010 Round of 16.
Morocco has been a pleasant surprise at this tournament, winning Group F in unbeaten fashion. They have a talented core and their relatively new head coach Walid Regragui has done a superb job to knit them together as a unit. They have been so tough to break down.
Luis Enrique’s Spain started the World Cup in stunning fashion with that 7-0 win against Costa Rica but their performances in a draw against Germany and a defeat against Japan left a lot to be desired. The Group E runners-up will lament letting 77 percent possession and a 13-6 shot advantage go for naught as Sergio Busquets, Carlos Soler, and Pablo Sarabia were all saved by Sevilla backstop Bounou.
How to watch Morocco vs Spain live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 10am ET – Tuesday, December 6 Stadium: Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan TV channels en Español: Telemundo Streaming en Español:Peacock (all 64 matches)
Key storylines, players to watch closely
Morocco’s stars have shone at this World Cup with Hakim Ziyech so dangerous in attack, plus Achraf Hakimi exceptional at right back, while Sofyan Amrabat has been a rock in central midfield and Romain Saiss has led by example in defense. The main thing to love about this Morocco side is their unity and they are so tough to play against and are very well-organized. But when they get the chance to get on the ball, they are direct and their wide players come to life quickly.
Spain’s talents are well known as Gavi and Pedri run the show in midfield but Enrique needs more from his attackers. Morata has finished off chances well so far but the likes of Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres, Marco Asensio and Ansu Fati need to kick on if Spain are going to make a deep run in this tournament.
Morocco quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 22
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CAF
Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic
Key players: Achraf Hakimi, Yassine Bounou, Youssef En-Nesyri, Romain Saiss, Hakim Ziyech
At the 2022 World Cup – Won Group F with 7 points from 9 (+3 GD)
Spain quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 7
World Cup titles: 1 (2010)
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Luis Enrique
Key players: Rodri, Pedri, Pau Torres, Jordi Alba
At the 2022 World Cup – Finished second in Group E with 4 points (+6 GD)