Serbia vs. Switzerland
June 22nd, 2018
Matchday 1 in Rostov-on-Don represented, according to many, the hardest challenge in Group E for Switzerland in their quest to qualify into the last 16 as they went toe-to-toe with Brazil and with Neymar, Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus just to name a few. Switzerland came through that match with a lot more than they had budgeted for and left the tenth-most expensive Russian city with a very valuable point. Now, the Swiss move onto Kaliningrad (it doesn’t make the top ten for those keeping check) and a game, again according to many, that ranks as the most important game in Group E.
Serbia lie in wait at the two-month old Kaliningrad Stadium on Oktyabrsky Island. The stadium already had it’s World Cup inauguration ceremony on Saturday evening when Croatia & Nigeria came to town but Friday night in this ancient city, founded by knights of the Teutonic Order in the 13th century, a place geographically separated from Russia itself, may yet have a pivotal say in the outcome of the 21st edition of the World Cup. A win for Serbia would see them all but through at Switzerland’s expense while a win for the Swiss would mean the Serbs would have to overturn a Brazilian side that would still need points on the final day to advance.
It sets it up nicely for intense and intriguing affair. Serbia come into this match in high spirits after their difficult 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Saturday afternoon. Neither side were in the mood to offer up any presents during the game and it took one piece of magic from an Aleksander Kolarov free-kick to take Serbia to a massive three points on their opening day. After a losing start to their last World Cup in South Africa, there is no doubt the Serbian team realize the importance of building on the important start and the command they have taken of their group.
Serbia will also feel at home in Kaliningrad. Their base camp in Svetlogorsk is just 40km away from the venue on Friday evening and after receiving the bulk of the support in that first match, they are hoping for more of the same.
“After the support we had in Samara, we know the Russian fans are with us. We hope it will be the same on Friday.” – Serbia midfielder, Dusan Tadic.
Switzerland gave themselves the best possible start on Sunday evening with that draw at the Rostov Arena but they now face a game against a side very much on their level and the pressure is now on to secure the victory that will give their qualification hopes a massive boost. The team faced a lengthy journey following the game with a trip to their training base in Samara soon followed by a three-hour plane journey across Belarus and Lithuania to this exclave in the Pregolya River.
While not ideal, that is not as big a problem for Switzerland as the condition of Valon Behrami. The star of the show vs. Brazil suffered a hamstring injury during the game but took part in training sessions with the team and physio and the Switzerland camp remain optimistic that he will be available on Friday.
Both of these sides also boast plenty of exciting talent and bags of experience. Serbia’s 23-man squad has 611 caps between them while Switzerland are even more matured at this level with 873 caps in their squad. Branislav Ivanovic has 104 caps on the Serbian side while Stephan Lichtsteiner is only three behind on 101. Both are expected to start.
Yann Sommer, Xherdan Shaqiri, Steven Zuber, Manuel Akanji and Valon Behrami all delivered good performances in their opening match for Switzerland while Aleksander Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic are just two of the names on the Serbian team sheet coming off of fantastic seasons at club level. The likes of Ljalic, Kostic, Rukavina and the aforementioned Ivanovic, Kolarov and Tadic make the Serbs a very efficient and difficult unit.
With all that in mind – it is set to be an intense and unpredictable affair. This game and this tournament continues to put this city on the map but for Switzerland or Serbia, it may well wipe out their World Cup dreams.
All eyes on Kaliningrad.