Serbia vs. Switzerland
June 22nd, 2018
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
It is within touching distance now. Four years ago in the middle of the Amazon rainforest in Manaus, Switzerland sealed qualification to the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil by virtue of a 3-0 victory over Honduras. This time, it is Costa Rica that stands in their way at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium after they successfully gained points from group rivals Brazil and Serbia in the preceding two games. The 17.9 million Nizhny Novgorod Stadium is the venue for Costa Rica’s final bow at this tournament while it is set up to be another landmark on the Swiss journey in Russia. It is now or never for Switzerland at the 2018 World Cup.
Just like they will on Wednesday evening, Switzerland knew on their final group game in 2014 that if they won then they were through and Xherdan Shaqiri then took it upon himself to light up the Arena da Amazonia with the 50th hat-trick in World Cup history to ensure that the Swiss would reach the knockout rounds for the fifth time. The hat-trick was also only the second by a Swiss player as Shaqiri followed in the footsteps of Josef Hugi in 1954.
All eyes will be on Shaqiri once again as Group E comes to a close tomorrow night. He has already done his bit for the team so far, scoring that wonderful last-minute winner against the Serbs to put the national team in pole position. As we have said, a win for Switzerland is enough to see them through. A draw could also be enough but that would then rely on the result in Moscow with Serbia and Brazil also trying to confirm their place in the next round. After last Friday night, there is no reason for Switzerland to leave their fate up to anyone else.
Costa Rica will have hoped for much more when they travelled to Russia and will most definitely feel hard done by. Luck has just not been on there side. They narrowly lost out to Serbia after a stunning free-kick and then were finally undone by Brazil in the final few minutes. Two points rather than the zero they current sit on would have really mixed up this group. Despite their elimination, they should not be discounted. They have proven themselves to be difficult to beat and you just have to look at Morocco and Peru to see that with the pressure off, these teams are not ready to leave the world stage with a whimper.
Of course, Switzerland can also achieve the added bonus of winning the group on Wednesday night, although their objective is of course just to advance first. Vladimir Petkovic touched on this in his pre-match press conference:
“We want to win against Costa Rica and possibly finish first in the group. I do not know what my line-up will be just yet, but it will include those players with whom we are confident we can claim the three points.” – Switzerland manager, Vladimir Petkovic
Much has been said in the aftermath of Switzerland’s 2-1 victory over Serbia last week. The brilliant displays by several of the players and the effort to turn the game around and also the penalty decision that fell in Switzerland’s favour but probably more has been said about the celebrations of the goals scored by Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka. The double-eagle celebration representing the Albanian flag certainly, understandably, caused a stir across social media.
The players have since given their reasons for their actions and FIFA has also since investigated the issue. In the end, the Swiss can breathe a sigh of relief as Shaqiri and Xhaka escaped bans and instead were heavily fined along with Stephan Lichtsteiner who performed the same celebration.
It is, obviously, a massive boost to Switzerland that they escaped without any real punishment and have those players available for the concluding chapter in Group E.
So, this it it. It is comforting and *almost* relaxing that Switzerland have their destiny in their hands. After the nervous draw vs. Brazil and the last minute drama in the Serbia match, I think everyone could be doing with something much more straight forward vs. Costa Rica and I don’t think anyone wants their World Cup to be decided by events elsewhere in Moscow.
This Swiss side has many great strides in the last decade. Their poor showing on home soil at Euro 2008 was disappointing but since then, Switzerland have qualified for four of the last five major tournaments and have qualified from their group in their last four in a row. Major progress.
Wednesday evening is another step and another historic moment in Swiss football history. IF they do it.
Over to you, boys.
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium