Arriving in Nizhny Novgorod earlier this week, Switzerland couldn’t have dreamt of a much better scenario for themselves ahead of the final group match at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They arrived in this city knowing that a win or draw against Costa Rica, the weakest side in the group, would be enough to see them into the last 16 for their second successive World Cup after achieving the same feat four years ago in Brazil. Their World Cup destiny was firmly in their own hands although nothing could be taken for granted against a side that exited the competition early after two narrow defeats to Brazil and Serbia and a side that would be desperate to leave Russia on a high having crushed Switzerland’s dreams.
Switzerland may have only needed a point from this game but they set out with a very attacking, positive team and with the intention of claiming all the points. Embolo replaced Zuber who had fallen ill while Mario Gavranovic received his chance from the start. The rest of the team was recognisable from their opening two games while Costa Rica plumped for some familiar names despite their early exit with Keylor Navas in goals and the likes of Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell up top.
They call Nizhny Novgorod, “Russia’s Hollywood” and while it was set up before the game for Switzerland to have the perfect ending to their Group Stage tale, Costa Rica, by the way they started this game, had other ideas and looked set to turn this fairytale into a nightmare for the Swiss.
Costa Rica came out of the traps at lightning pace and the first half hour of this contest would suggest to the uninformed that it was Los Ticos that were on course for qualification if they won. It took only six minutes for Yann Sommer to produce a huge save to deny the Central Americans. The keeper had to tip away with first shot but his second save from Borges’ header onto the post was world class and a reminder of just how good Sommer can be and just how important he is for the team.
More shots rained on the Switzerland goal with Colindres creating most of the issues in the Swiss defence. A wonderful shot onto the crossbar that came down just in front of the line was the next warning for the Swiss and it wasn’t long before the tricky midfielder was forcing Sommer into another save as the keeper tipped it around the post.
All that first-half pressure, you can guess what happened next then?
A huge sigh of relief heard from Geneva to Zurich. Blerim Dzemaili delivering the much-needed opener after good work from Embolo to head the ball back across the box and the midfielder was able to smash the ball into the net with the help of a deflection. Switzerland on course and once again, despite being less than impressive, the Swiss found a way to take control of the game.
The second half began much in the same fashion as the first with Costa Rica well on top and it didn’t take too long for them to capitalize and score their first goal at the World Cup, also becoming the last of the 32 teams to find the net in Russia. A simple cross into the box and a good header from Kendall Watson was enough to find a deserved equalizer. Elation for Costa Rica and a return of the anxiety for the Swiss.
In truth, the game quieted down following the equalizer. Neither side really pushed for the winner until the final fifteen minutes and like any good Hollywood movie, this game saved it’s twists and turns for the final stretch. Josip Drmic hitting the crossbar with a header before finding the net with a lovely sweeping finish into the corner before Costa Rica were awarded a penalty in added time, had that penalty overturned and then were awarded another one moments later… and to add to all that – Bryan Ruiz hit the bar and the ball only crossed the line after rebounding against the back of a hapless and very unlucky Yann Sommer.
Switzerland can breathe. Despite being second best throughout they are into the last 16 and will face Sweden on July 3rd.
It was not good but the job is done and Switzerland can look ahead having negotiated the Group Stage unbeaten and having taken four points from their final two games despite lacklustre performances.
Sweden is a draw Switzerland can be happy with. It is not easy by any means but two evenly-matched teams, both with a chance of progressing to the Quarter Final stage and from there, who knows what can happen.
Group E complete.
Dzemaili opened the scoring on Wednesday night.