Brazil vs. Switzerland
June 17th, 2018
For Switzerland, June 17th 2018 will mark the conclusion of their journey that began back on September 6th 2016 in Basel vs. the newly-crowned European champions. 649 days will have passed since the first ball was kicked in earnest on the St. Jakob-Park soil with no ticket booked for Russia but plenty of hopes and dreams of making the plane and the list of 32 teams competing for football’s richest prize. 92 weeks later, Sunday will mark the culmination of one journey when Switzerland and Brazil meet at the futuristic Rostov Arena on the banks of the Don River but also mark the beginning of another as Switzerland embark on another quest to delve deep into the riches the World Cup can offer.
From Belfast to Budapest, Lisbon to Luzern and Riga to Rostov, the Swiss arrive in Russia in fine spirit. They lost just one game in their qualifying group, to Portugal before controversially eliminating Northern Ireland and are unbeaten in 2018 having defeated Greece and Panama in March before final preparations for the tournament itself included a creditable 1-1 draw with the Spaniards and a cheery send-off in Lugano after a comfortable 2-0 victory over Japan at the Cornaredo. This is a team that has all the tools to impress and perhaps surprise in equal measure in this tournament as they look to at least equal their achievement in 2014 of reaching the last 16.
It is a hard group, perhaps one of the hardest. Brazil, Serbia and Costa Rica. Brazil are much improved from the side that were humiliated on sacred ground at the Maracana in 2014. Costa Rica advanced from a group containing England, Italy and Uruguay at that same tournament while Serbia are experiencing a resurgence and take their place back at international football’s top table after missing out on the carnival in Brazil four years ago. It is difficult to predict, other than Brazil being expected to top the table, and the games between the other three will probably be crucial to determine second place in the group.
Brazil up first is as daunting as they come. Switzerland are not expected to get much but with nothing to lose, anything can happen. Just ask the Spanish side of 2010. A defeat is expected, anything other than that is a much needed bonus and will set Switzerland up nicely for a titanic battle with the Serbs in Kaliningrad before finishing up with Costa Rica in Nizhny Novgorod.
With Neymar, Jesus, Coutinho, Firmino on show, just to name a few, Switzerland will have to be at their very best. Thankfully, they have three top goalkeepers in the squad with Yann Sommer likely to start while the midfield is packed with talent. Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri are crucial to the side. Defensively, the Brazilians could have some fun while up front, Switzerland haven’t exactly been clinical, something they must be on Sunday if they are to have any chance of claiming anything as it is unlikely the door will be kept shut at the back.
Stranger things have happened. Switzerland like causing a scene on their opening day at a major tournament. They beat Ecuador with seconds to spare four years ago, that result vs. Spain in 2010 and they held France to a 0-0 draw at the 2006 World Cup. Any of those results would do nicely, even if they seem so unlikely as we approach kick-off.
Regardless, the time has come. The World Cup isn’t only here, it is underway at breakneck speed. The roller-coaster stops very briefly on night three to let Serbia, Costa Rica, Germany, Mexico, Brazil and, of course, Switzerland on. There is no play-off reprieve or warm-up friendly matches to get things right. It is now or never for this group of players. For some, it is their last chance, to make history and legacy for themselves.
Switzerland step into battle in Russia ready to cull the Canarinha, slay the White Eagles and deny Los Ticos and claim a place in the last 16. If the luck of the draw is kind, perhaps even further.
The fun begins tomorrow evening. Let’s enjoy the ride…
The Rostov Arena