It wasn’t supposed to go like this. We had already had our shock of the day with Mexico defeating the World Champions in Moscow. 959kms away in Rostov-on-Don however, Switzerland were keen to cause an upset of their own against a Brazilian starting eleven that boasted a 23-trophy haul from the season just past and a desire for revenge on everyone for their embarrassing and disastrous performance on home soil in the 2014 edition of the World Cup. Switzerland on the other hand could only boast three trophy winners in their eleven with Stephan Lichtsteiner having done the double with Juventus while Granit Xhaka collected the token trophy in the Community Shield.
Neymar, Coutinho, Willian and Gabriel Jesus against recently-relegated Fabian Schar, World Cup first-timer and relatively inexperienced Manuel Akanji and 34-year-old Stephan Lichtsteiner. It all pointed one way and to one result and that Brazil would lay down a marker in a tournament when none of the big guns have really managed to flex their muscles. No, no one expected this tonight.
Switzerland began the game in an encouraging fashion, having a go at Brazil and showing that they were not content to sit back and allow the Brazilians to stroll to the predicted result. It worked for a while but Brazil found their way through after thirty-five minutes. A piece of magic from Coutinho was enough to unlock a stubborn Swiss door as the midfield maestro repeated a feat he has shown many times in the past with Liverpool and now Barcelona. A beautiful, curling shot kissing the post before nestling into the back of Yann Sommer’s net.
Only one way this game was going now, right? I felt it and I’m sure most people did too. Brazil, with their talent and their skill, will eventually find a second and despite the hard work and desire of the Swiss team, a good performance would end with nothing to show but a pat on the back. Perhaps we should’ve thought different in the final ten minutes of the first half when the Swiss team began to climb back into the game and cause a few more problems but as the half-time whistle blew, it was going the way everyone expected.
This city seems to like the underdog though. FC Rostov, the tenants of the impressive Rostov Arena that was showcasing this match, surprised everyone by qualifying for Europe and participating in the Champions League in 2016. It isn’t the first time that the megastars have come to this port city and failed, just ask FC Bayern. Perhaps it is something in the air.
Switzerland came out in the second half and signalled their intentions just five minutes later. One corner and a real chance to stun the Brazilians. A Shaqiri cross and a header from Steven Zuber that ignited this game and filled Swiss hearts. Contentious it was, a push on Miranda’s back, raising the ire of the Canarinha but the squeaks of the little bird fell on deaf VAR ears and the goal stood. Switzerland had the goal and they had the little bit of luck they needed.
From there, the fouls came, the dogged defending was also evident. The saves of Yann Sommer, the maturity of Manuel Akanji and desire of an entire team determined to leave with something to show for their considerable efforts. Switzerland dodged another VAR-sized bullet with Gabriel Jesus going down in the box but there was no divine intervention for the Brazilians on this occasion either. Good chances fell the way of Neymar, Firmino and even Miranda as the clock ticked down but each time their radar fell a little short as they failed to put Brazil back in command.
Some say he favoured the Swiss, perhaps he was just feeling charitable after his country provided unexpected joy earlier in the day but the shrill peep of Mexican referee Cesar Arturo Ramos’ whistle signalled the end of this Group E tussle. Switzerland had done it. They went to battle with Brazil and came out with something to show for it.
A performance full of guts and determination, a performance that leaves a nation proud. It isn’t just a single unexpected point. Sure, it boosts Switzerland’s chances in this group but it is a performance that provides a platform for Switzerland to go on and do what they must to secure qualification from the group. Step one, some say it was the hardest step of them all, is complete. Serbia and Costa Rica lie in wait to decide this group and after tonight, Switzerland have shown they can advance to the last 16.
We mentioned yesterday that Switzerland had come aboard the World Cup rollercoaster, to embark on the ultimate international thrill-ride. Tonight was already worth the admission fee alone.
Zuber celebrates his equalizer vs. Brazil