Tag Archives: Switzerland

FIFA World Cup 2018: Group E and F Second Matches

Brazil 2-0 Costa Rica: Costa Rica played a compact, discipline 5-4-1, looking to sit back, win the ball and hit Brazil on the quick counterattack. Unlike in 2014, Brazil didn’t rely on flanker Neymar to score, but they did rely on the attack to flow through him this time around and get the ball into the box for Phillippe Coutino or Willian to finish. Brazil’s midfield did a good job of staying in front of the Costa Rican attack, not giving them the space to counter. More of a possession-intensive game by Brazil, kind of like the “tici-taci” game we are used to seeing from Spain. Costa Rica did a good job of closing down the Brazilian wingers Wagner and Marcelo early on, and the back three did a good job of keeping Brazil out of the box as long as they stuck together as a unit. Clearly Neymar is a marked man; opposition strategy throughout this tournament will be to put a body on him and beat him up. Costa Rica did a lot of switching play from side to side, making Brazil have to run around the pitch. About 25 minutes in Neymar began to find his rhythm, finding holes on the flank and gaining momentum. When that happens he brings the whole team with him.

In the second half, Brazil started to find holes in the back three of Costa Rica, making them panic in the box. Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas was awake and alert and he had to be, he was under siege for the last 45 minutes. I don’t have a problem with the Neymar penalty being overturned by VAR; he definitely embellished the minimal contact in the box. Too much of this game was played in the Costa Rican box in the second half, so it was no surprise that Phillipe Coutino finally got on the end of one in stoppage time. Neymar delived the dagger 5 minutes later. Costa Rico was a tough nut to crack defensively, but when you give up the possession they allowed, bad things eventually happen.

Serbia 1-2 Switzerland: Expected a tactically rigid and physical game from both sides and that’s exactly what we got. Identical 4-2-3-1 formations that relied on the two holding midfielders to clog up the middle of the pitch and introduce the attack going forward. So the influence and playmaking happened out wide. The second tallest team in the tournament made their presence felt in the fifth minute when target man Aleksandar Mitrovic got his head on a Dusan Tadic cross to put it in the back of the net. Mitrovic did exactly what a target man is supposed to do; get the ball up top, and either hold up play for trailing attackers to get into the box or take a shot himself. Switzerland’s backline looked disjointed and out of shape. Their attack was bewildering; they spent too much time trying to make thrusts forward through the middle (exactly into the Serbian strength) and not enough time going down the flanks where they could open things up.

Winger Aleksandar Kolarov and Tadic were especially effective on either flank for the Serbs. The Swiss ruled the possession, but the Serbs were so good in transition, getting back and maintaining their defensive shape quickly, making the Swiss have to just pass the ball back and forth. The Swiss didn’t so much get the ball down the flanks as much as they kind of methodically worked their way down the flanks. Xherdan Shaqiri made more runs at holding midfielders Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic, who were both sitting on yellow cards. Switzerland finally caught the Serbs slow on transition, and Swiss talisman Granit Xhaka buried a long range shot. As the game got more open and back and forth, it also got more chippy; every single ball got contested, but both teams played to win. Shaquiri’s runs at the Serbian center paid off in the 90th minute on a fast break. Gotta give it to the Swiss; they got it together enough to get full points.

South Korea 1-2 Mexico: South Korea looked to play very conservatively with a 4-4-2 formantion, while Mexico was going to be more adventuresome with three forwards in a 4-3-3 formation. It was apparent from the start that the Koreans were going to take people on, closing down Mexico’s speedy forwards and especially Javier Hernandez and Guardado. Mexico showed a lot of movement diagonally both on and off the ball, leaving Korea with having to get in front of them, especially in the middle third, trying to interrupt El Tri’s attack. The best Korean attacks came on the counter, especially down the flank. Mexico’s best chance was to manage tempo and try to keep possession, play from side to side. The penalty goal by Carlos Vela meant that Korea had to chase the game and take more chances both in the back and going forward. Korea became more aggressive but they still did not send numbers forward, relying on quick runs, by two or three players, and long passes into the attacking third. Yet Mexico did not play any differently after the goal, playing with width and maintaining possession.

Despite their lack of size the Koreans were dangerous on set pieces and 50/50 balls. At about the 60th minute you could tell that the humidity in Rostov-on-Don was getting to both sides, as both backlines were having to react to quick pressure from each other. Good to see world-class defender Rafa Marquez come on in his fifth World Cup; his purpose was to settle in front of the Mexican backline and act as a stopper before the Korean attack got into the box. Because Korea sent so many numbers forward, they were exposed in the back, and when Mexico interrupted a Korean attack in the 66th minute, Korea had nobody back to stop Hernandez on a quick counter for a score. Gotta give it to South Korea, they never gave up, and kept up the pressure at the heart of the Mexican backline, which finally wilted and allowed a stoppage time goal to Korean Son Heung-Min. Too little too late.

Germany 2-1 Sweden: Even though Sweden play are careful 4-4-2 formation, they looked to play more adventuresome down the left wing with talisman Emil Forsman. Germany planned to move the ball around in a 4-5-1 formation, hoping to get Marco Reus and Toni Kroos to apply pressure going forward, with Tomas Meuller more in the center of attack as opposed to his usual ramsteuter on the right. The Swedish defense was pack tight, but Germany still managed to find space, especially on the left, where winger Jonas Hector and flanker Julian Draxler found room to operate in the final third. I expected Sweden to give up much of the possession and quickly go on the counter when they did get it, but to give up as much possession as they did is just self-defeating. Germany plays a notoriously high backline considering it is only two center backs (Jérôme Boateng and Antonio Rüdiger); It cost them in the 30th minute when Viktor Claesson stole the ball at midfied and sent a cultured through ball on to target man Ola Toivonen, who got loose behind the center of the German backline and buried it. In an attempt to get more creativity going forward, German coach Joakim Low moved Meuller back to his customary ramsteuter on the right, and Marco Reus moved inside.

You would think given how badly Germany handled the counterattack in their loss to Mexico that that part of their game would improve this time; it didn’t. By subbing Mario Gomez for Julian Draxler, Germany was going with four men up front in a 4-2-4 overload. It worked immediately; Reus scored on a one-timer three minutes in. Boateng gets sent off on a silly foul in the box with ten minutes left, so you would think with their tournament lives on the line, Germany would have to play the rest of the game more carefully. They did not. Germany kept up the possession and the pressure, keeping Sweden on their backheels, resulting in a short set piece free kick that Kroos buried from the left edge of the box in stoppage time. Sweden was so close to eliminating the defending world champions, but a desperate and classic Germany, a team that has historically known how to grind out results, pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat. NOW THAT WAS A FINISH!

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19. Switzerland

What Went Right?  DEFENSE! DEFENSE! DEFENSE! The best defensive side on the planet, allowing only one goal in seven matches across two World Cups. These guys are a dam; nothing gets past them. Switzerland’s defense is big, physical, disciplined, organized, and unyielding. Calling them tactically rigid in the back is a profound understatement. Get into their final third and they are the undisputed best at closing down space, cutting off passing lanes, putting a body on you, making textbook tackles, and dispossessing you of the ball, your wallet and your underwear. The cherry on top is that they are equally supreme at defending set pieces, corners and free kicks. Switzerland was the recipient of a rare, momentary yet spectacular clusterfuck in Spain’s defense, finishing off the goal that resulted in the biggest upset of the tournament; not even the best attack in the world could get past this defense —

What Went Wrong?  — Because otherwise Switzerland has arguably the worst offense in World Cup history. These guys wouldn’t know how to score a goal deliberately to save their lives. Allowing one goal across two World Cups is surreally offset by the fact that they’ve only scored three goals in seven games across the same two World Cups, and only one in South Africa (the aforementioned one against Spain). I’d go into detail about what they can’t do in attack, but it would be a waste of time and space. So I’ll just put it this way: WHEN IT COMES TO ATTACKING SWITZERLAND ISN’T ANY GOOD AT ANYTHING! The only way water can get past a damn is if there is a breach, and that was the only way Chile got a goal past them; a Swiss player was sent off early. If that doesn’t happen then it’s Switzerland in the Round of 16 and not Chile. So we should probably thank Chile for saving us all the trouble of having to watch any more of a Swiss side this stultifying with an attack this colossally bad.

Who Stepped Up To The Plate?  New netminder Diego Benaglio is stepping in ably as a keeper who gets to everything. The center of defense, Philippe Senderos and Stephane Grichting, is second to none in the world, and they didn’t miss a cylinder when Steve von Gergen had to come in for an injured Senderos. Same for the fullbacks, Reto Ziegler and Stephan Lichtsteiner. Benjamin Juggel and Gokhan Inler took a backseat to no one when it came to interrupting the opposition attack in front of the backline. And the swiss could rely on their reserve subs to keep it all going.

Who Didn’t Show Up?  Spain’s defensive lapse aside, Gelson Fernandes and Tranquillo Barnetta couldn’t service a whore. Blaise N’Kufo and Eren Derdiyok couldn’t finish a sentence. And would you guys please stop finding a spot for Alex Frei? He’s been a useless forward at this level and it’s getting embarrassing. Midfield and attacking subs were just plain useless.

How Was The Coaching?  I think I expected a little more attacking adventure and vision from as stellar a coach as Ottmar Hitzfeld. So in that respect I’m really disappointed.

Did They Finish Where They Were Expected?  Not really. With their defense and after the upset of Spain, I think a lot of people had Switzerland advancing to the next round. I’m sure most of us had their defense stifling Chile’s furious yet unorganized and frenetic attack, and we certainly thought they could at least get one goal – ONE GOAL – out of minnows Honduras.

Now What?  Jesus H. Christ, it’s been ten years; find a reasonable facsimile of an organized attack, will ya?

South Africa Match Observations: Group H

Some random observations after the third group fixtures:

Chile 1-2 Spain: Chile’s manic attack played quite compact in the midfield to start things off, hoping not to let any easy goals from the creative Spanish. Spain played the same, with Fernando Torres as the target man up top and David Villa the withdrawn forward on the left. Chile had the speedy players that moved the ball very quickly but not very organized, while Spain sustained their attack a lot better with combination passes. Chile’s rearguard looked a lot less organized from the beginning, losing their shape and discipline on several Spanish services in the box. Chile’s attack was not so much direct as much as it was long, sending very long passes behind the Spanish defense hoping somebody would run onto the ball, but they did see more of the ball early on. Three yellow cards on Chile in the first 20 minutes made defending a chore from then on. A fatal error by the Chilean goalkeeper coming way too far out of the penalty area to defend a long Spanish pass got Spain off the schneid when Villa sent a 50-yarder into the empty goal. After that Chile’s attack got more frenetic and less organized (hard to imagine since it wasn’t that organized to begin with), and when that happened they lost any semblance of discipline in the back, resulting in another fatal error and a beautiful Spanish goal by Andres Iniesta on combination passing ending with a divine assist from Xavi. On the score Chilean Marco Estrada was given his second yellow of the game, resulting in a sending off that put Chile down to ten men for the last 54 minutes, a hole they just couldn’t overcome. Amazingly, after halftime Chile got more disciplined in attack (where were they hiding that), becoming more compact in the center, putting passes together and scoring a goal in front of the penalty area on a deft shot from substitute Rodrigo Millar. Not sure what happened but Spain began to get sloppy in possession. Spain still had the better possession and better chances on goal, but Chile did put several scares on them with some direct shots on the Spanish goal. Despite the loss, Madd Props to Chile for winning two games in this group and getting through to the next round; and Big Ups to Spain for getting past the upset to Switzerland and winning the group.

Switzerland 0-0 Honduras: No surprise that Switzerland started out with no offensive urgency whatsoever. Honduras actually showed more adventure in attack to start the match than the Swiss, infrequently getting the ball on the flanks and sending service into the box, but as has been the case all tournament long the Hondurans just couldn’t get on the end of anything. As usual the Swiss were a closed vault door in the back; even with Steven Lichtsteiner in the center of the backline instead of Philippe Senderos the Swiss just would not give up their defensive discipline. Switzerland’s inability to establish anybody up front that could finish for the past two World Cups was evident today. On several occasions Honduras lost their shape in the back but neither Blaise N’Kufo, Eric Derdiyok nor Alexander Frei could finish anything. Hard to imagine a team that has 56% of the possession could be this stultifyingly unimaginative going forward, but this has characterized the Swiss for their last seven World Cup fixtures. Honduras didn’t play with much better creative imagination but looked good the few times they had the possession because of how bad Switzerland was when they had the ball. As a result, Honduras almost stole a win in the 71st minute, but keeper Diego Benaglio denied a wide-open Edgar Alvarez with a brilliant one-handed save. Only after that did Switzerland play with any urgency, and they finally began to pound the ball upfield on the flanks. Still, the better chances were taken by Honduras because in the last 20 minutes Switzerland were pushing forward in numbers, leaving the back vulnerable. In the end it was the inability for both sides to do anything in attack all tournament long that cost both teams a satisfying result. A very winnable game for Switzerland went begging because they couldn’t turn its domination of possession into quality scoring opportunities. Arguably the best defense the World Cup has ever seen (1 goal allowed in seven World Cup matches) is going home because they haven’t been able to find a reliable finisher in more than 24 years.