In the 0-1 defeat against Brazil, Switzerland defended itself in an exemplary manner. However, the national team lacks courage and penetrating power. In the end, an honorable defeat and an exciting starting position remain. Five figures in the Swiss who are the focus.
Manuel Akanji: Close to world class
Sometimes it takes luck. From a Swiss point of view, one thing must not happen in the game against Brazil: that Manuel Akanji be cautioned. The defense chief would be suspended with the second yellow card in the tournament against Serbia in the third World Cup preliminary round match – as would Nico Elvedi, his partner in central defence. You don’t have something like that in the back of your mind, said Akanji after the 1-0 win against Cameroon at the start of the World Cup, but pull the tactical foul if you have to to prevent an attack by the opponent.
Four days later, Akanji obviously pulls the tactical foul against Brazil, he should actually be warned – at the latest in the final phase. But like Elvedi, he doesn’t get a yellow card, which may also be seen as a reward for a very convincing performance. Akanji directs the Swiss security service confidently, he is tough in duels, calm in demeanor, deliberate in the build-up. It’s a near-world-class performance against world-class attackers.
Akanji only lacked luck when conceding a goal, when he deflected the shot from goalscorer Casemiro, but didn’t stop it.
Silvan Widmer: Excellent against Vinicius Junior for a long time
Sometimes support is needed. Vinicius Junior is Brazil’s best attacking player in the absence of injured Neymar against Switzerland. The Swiss plan not to let the rapid left wing pick up speed worked for a long time. Which is due to right-back Silvan Widmer, who likes against Cameroon. And to Fabian Rieder, who starts in front of Widmer on the right wing because Xherdan Shaqiri’s thigh pinches a little. Rieder actively helps Widmer guard Vinicius Junior.
In the first half, Widmer and Rieder are late once after Widmer is fouled and remains on the ground. It is hard to imagine that Shaqiri would have been as efficient defensively as Rieder (but he would certainly have been more conspicuous on offense). Only when Rieder is no longer on the field can Vinicius Junior be unstoppable. Renato Steffen supports Widmer less strongly, the Brazilian winning goal is prepared by the Swiss right side.
Granit Xhaka: He hasn’t presented his emotions yet
Sometimes it takes rest. Granit Xhaka is hardly recognizable as Granit Xhaka at this World Championship. He’s almost a different person, at least that’s the impression he gives. He appears with maturity and with an almost irritating calm. Even after the defeat against Brazil, he speaks calmly, he didn’t take his emotional side with him to Qatar – or he has hidden it well so far.
Xhaka is decent on the pitch, he has a couple of good moments against Brazil but is not as dominating as he used to be under national coach Vladimir Petkovic. Sometimes the extraordinary fire that distinguished him is almost missing. Switzerland meets Serbia on Friday. It’s not only a special game for Xhaka, but especially for him. And that’s not just because, like his buddy Ricardo Rodríguez and Xherdan Shaqiri, he will be the first Swiss to make his eleventh World Cup appearance. It’s an encounter that seems perfect for Xhaka. For the old Xhaka. Sometimes it takes fire.
Breel Embolo: Frustrating evening against a top class duo
Sometimes it takes humility. Breel Embolo was the match winner in the 1-0 win over Cameroon. The striker endured a frustrating evening against Brazil. He is basically the only real Swiss offensive player, the wingers Rieder and Ruben Vargas are very busy supporting the full-backs in defence. Embolo uses his massive body but he ricochets off the towering Brazilian centre-backs. And once he has created a little space against Marquinhos, Thiago Silva is already waiting and takes the ball away from him.
The Swiss remain without a shot on goal on Monday evening. So it is rather difficult to win a game. Against the Serbs, who are shaky on the defensive, Embolo will be much more in focus in three days. And maybe then Shaqiri and Noah Okafor, who was also injured against Brazil, will be available again in attack. It would be desirable for Embolo and the Swiss.
Murat Yakin: An almost perfect match plan – at least on the defensive
Sometimes it takes courage. The tactical arts of Murat Yakin have often been praised. The national coach also drew up a master plan against Brazil based on excellent organization. The Swiss annoy the favorites, they narrow the spaces, switch heavily, are attentive to the sides and in the center. What they don’t present: a game idea to become dangerous yourself. Shaqiri and Okafor are missing in attack, but that probably bothers Yakin less that evening than if the two were not there against Serbia on Friday.
At the latest in the final phase, however, one would have wished for more risk from Yakin. He didn’t take a lot of attacking players to the World Cup. But why he substituted his old confidante Fabian Frei and not Christian Fassnacht for Widmer a few minutes before the end of the game against Brazil is a mystery. And so in the end there is an honorable defeat, nothing more.
Nobody expected the Swiss to win against Brazil. But a little more daring in the forward movement. A draw against Serbia is most likely enough to advance to the round of 16. And Murat Yakin faces the big question: How much courage is enough courage?