Switzerland came into the World Cup with a remarkable defensive record and being touted as potential dark-horses on a website not far from here. They have been given atleast two winnable games starting off against Ecuador. But the game was anything but an assured victory with the Swiss disappointing for large parts and Ecuador looking capable of getting a result.
Formation and Line Ups
Switzerland(4-2-3-1): Benaglio; Rodríguez, von Bergen, Djourou, Lichtsteiner; Inler, Behrami; Stocker (Mehmedi 46′), Xhaka, Shaqiri; Drmić (Seferović 76)
Ecuador(4-4-2): Domínguez; Ayoví, Erazo, Guagua, Paredes; Montero (Rojas 76′), Noboa, Gruezo, A. Valencia; E. Valencia, Caicedo (Arroyo 70′)
Goals: E. Valencia (22′), Mehmedi (48′), Seferović (90+3′)
Switzerland sloppy in opening quarter
The Swiss defenders clearly failed to mark their man initially which led to Enner Valencia eventually scoring a brilliant header with no-one picking him up. Johan Djourou was mostly at fault but did start playing better as time progressed. Stephen Lichsteiner was way too average to justify his position as Juventus’ first choice right back, Montero ran rings around him and he couldn’t do anything at all. Ricardo Rodriguez was perhaps the only saving grace for the Swiss in defense as he made sure to get back to defend after a failed counter attack, he managed to keep the Ecuadorians quiet on the left hand side and was very good striding forward as well. Johan Djourou might have done better as time progressed but his selection ahead of Schaar who was magnificent for his club still has many people wondering.
By around the 20 minute mark, Switzerland had arguably only two lame attempts on goal from Shaqiri and Rodriguez. This naturally increased the already heavy onus on Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez, arguably the best full back combination at the World Cup, to get even further forward than they usually do, so much so that they could have easily been called as wing-backs with a back two. Lichtsteiner had a good cross that was left untouched and Rodriguez had a good shot on goal. Lichtsteiner in particular, the man they called “Forrest Gump”for his absolute love of motoring up and down the flanks was given a double shift on the day. Ecuador found huge spaces while counter attacking, with their agile wingers running in whenever they can. One such counter was stopped by a sloppy tackle by Lichtsteiner led to a dangerous set piece. Ayovi took full advantage by whipping in a good cross that was headed in by Enner Valencia. Djourou could have certainly done a lot more and keeper Benaglio should have come out to collect the cross which was close to him. Ecuador were rewarded for their sheer hardwork.
Ecuadorian pace and strength on the counter
As we saw in the 92nd minute when Antonio Valencia ran forward and sprung in a pass which should have been put in by Arroyo, the Ecuadorians are insanely fast on the counter and their strength helps them keep hold of the ball which they showed time and again whenever they attacked. Stephen Lichsteiner at times had no answer and let the Ecuadorians run rings around him. The free kick that was initially given was courtesy a desperate tackle to stop the Ecuadorian pace and that eventually led to a goal for Ecuador.
Despite Switzerland’s better use of possession, there were almost an equal amount of chances for Ecuador too. They threatened greatly off set pieces and counter attacks with the two unrelated Valencias turning into key men. Ecuador were fantastically disciplined getting 10 men behind the ball as Switzerland tried a patient approach.
The Swiss midfield and Josip Drmic need to step up
A lot was expected from the Swiss especially since they’re ranked 6th in the world. The Switzerland midfield consists of some extremely talented players such as Inler, Behrami, Stocker, Shaqiri and Xhaka and naturally expectations were high. Shaqiri tried a lot to cut in and attack but couldn’t do much, Inler blasted wide once he got a chance and despite Behrami’s match saving tackle he seemed pretty lost on the pitch. Stocker’s replacement at halftime Mehmedi was the man who eventually brought the Swiss level and would naturally be a serious contender to start in the next game against the French. Granit Xhaka had a very quiet day and the Borussia Monchengladbach star needs to do so much more for his Swiss side.
Another man whom people expected to light up this World Cup was Josep Drmic. After his 17 goals for a relegated Nurnberg side people thought his gifted midfield would aid his cause but the only person who constantly linked up with him was a left back in the form of Ricardo Rodriguez and that led to Drmic drifting way too much towards the left, he might have been denied a goal from a debatable offside decision but he was nowhere up to the mark. In fact the Swiss scored the winner courtesy his replacement Seferovic who slotted in the only attempt he had.
Ottmar Hitzfeld’s substitutions and tactical alterations
It was only after the goal went in did Switzerland stir awake. They just about realised how crucial this game was and began acting far more aggressive and with much more of an attacking idea about them. The midfield started to see much more of the ball and began creating real good chances.
At half time, Ottmar Hitzfeld made a change to bring on Admir Mehmedi for the largely disappointing Stocker who was a man wanting in the first half. Surely enough, in the 48th minute Mehmedi rose to score a wonderful header off a well directed corner from Rodriguez. Switerland were back in it, and now had the momentum. An important change which Hitzfeld made after the equalizer was move Shaqiri to a central role, behind Drmic with Xhaka moving to the right. The tactical mix up was a game changer. Shaqiri was absolutely outstanding for the rest of the game as he began breaking free with his sheer pace and dexterity and began creating fantastic chances for his team. Suddenly, Ecuador were pushed back and were subject to great pressure.
The other crucial substitution was that of Haris Seferovic. The Sociedad man came on for a largely disappointing Josip Drmic and with nearly the last kick of the ball, earned the Swiss a draw. Credit has to be given to Hitzfeld for realising his errors, and effectively making substitutions. Both your substitutes scoring can be considered a coincidence, but it would be unfair to not credit the coach
Key Player of the Match
Harsh: My key player of the match without a doubt has to be Ricardo Rodriguez. He defended superbly on the left hand side and attacked ferociously whenever he had the ball. The Swiss were terrible with set pieces until Rodriguez stepped up and shot in a near perfect corner for Mehmedi which brought the Swiss level. Rodriguez was also the player who got the ball from a failed Ecuadorian attack and shot it in for Seferovic to finish and hand the Swiss a vital win. After an incredible season for Wolfsburg Ricardo Rodriguez failed to disappoint at the international level, he’s a full back many will be looking at this World Cup. With two assists and a good job at keeping the Ecuadorians at bay, Stephen Lichsteiner might want to look at his performance and pick up a few pointers.
Nikhil: Despite Ricardo Rodriguez’s tireless performance which gave him two assists, Switzerland’s key player was unquestionably Xherdan Shaqiri. The Bayern Munich man had been kept quiet for the first half by left-back Ayovi’s excellent closing him down whenever he has been on the ball. Even, on the ball he over-hit a lot of passes and made a lot of poor decisions. But in the beginning of half time Hitzfeld executed a masterstroke by deploying in the center of midfield, opening the game up completely and providing Switzerland with the cutting edge they lacked. His magnificent performance at the role was almost a carbon copy of Raheem Sterling’s performance for England against Italy. He well and truly was a game changer. The youngster will be key in Switzerland’s progress if they are to live up to their label.
Where does this leave them?
Switzerland are well poised to qualify from group E now. Manager Ottmar Hitzfeld made some brilliant tactical changes. Some might classify the changes as purely luck. But Hitzfeld has done it time and again and on the biggest of stages such as bringing Lars Ricken on in the 1997 Champions League final to win it for Dortmund. Swapping Shaqiri with Xhaka turned out to be the game changer. Expect great things from this Swiss side who showed true character and promise
Ecuador go up against a Honduras side who were humbled by the French 3-0 last night but don’t let the scoreline deceive you, the Hondurans had Wilson Palacios sent off and that played its part in what the French are liking to call a mini rout.The Ecuadorians might have been left shell shocked after their game against the Swiss but they will take a lot of positives and will be hoping to exploit an ageing Honduran back-line with their pace on the counter when they play them next.
This article was written by Harsh Khara (Twitter) & Nikhil Krishna
Read all our World Cup content here