Switzerland sprung the surprise of the World Cup so far as they hung on in a breathless finish to beat favourites Spain . A Gelson Fernandes goal was enough to down the reigning European Champions as Group H was turned on its head.
For all the Spanish possession, they created very little of note in front of goal in the first half. David Silva had their first attempt at goal after 16 minutes, shooting tamely straight at Diego Benaglio. Moments later Sergio Ramos cut inside on his left foot but his finish was poor into the side netting. Spain’s best chance came in the 24th minute when Andres Iniesta fed Gerard Pique who jinked into space inside his marker but Benaglio was out quickly to smother his shot. Reto Ziegler came close for the Swiss two minutes after with a freekick that Iker Casillas held low to his left at the second attempt.
Switzerland went ahead against the run of play after a long kick from Benaglio caused problems in the Spanish defence in the 52nd minute. Eren Derdiyok was played through by Blaise Nkufo and he found himself sandwiched in a challenge by Pique and the outrushing Casillas. A stumbling Pique blocked Fernandes’ first effort to fire home the loose ball but he could not prevent the Swiss midfielder from bundling home at the second attempt. Iniesta curled just wide after 63 minutes, his effort from the edge of the area leaving Benaglio rooted to the spot. With 20 minutes remaining, Xabi Alonso hammered a 25 yard effort against the crossbar but it was the Swiss who almost doubled their lead after some superb play by Derdiyok. The striker burst through the inside-right channel, before cutting inside and firing against the post. Jesus Navas was within a whisker of an equaliser but his long range effort just went past the far post before Tranquillo Barnetta shot just over at the other end.
As expected, Spain dominated possession with their patient ability to string passes together for long periods. With Switzerland predictably packing almost their entire team behind the ball, it was left to the Spanish to try and break them down. The Spanish approach is usually very effective defensively, denying the opposition the chance to attack by keeping hold of the ball, but they will find most opponents employing similar tactics to Switzerland and so will need to be more proactive in making their possession count. Of course, Spain’s winning record over the past three years is phenomenal, but it will count for nothing if they can not rack up the wins when it matters at the World Cup.
With two of the Premier League’s biggest stars, Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres, left on the bench, the typical reaction has been about how good Spain are that they can afford to leave both players out. Whilst it is true that there is unrivalled strength in depth in the Spanish squad, the question must be posed on if there is a bias towards players from La Liga. As good a quartet as Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta and Silva are on the ball, their combined total of goals for 2009/10 equalled that scored by Fabregas alone. With Spain rarely needing to worry about defence, surely there was room for Fabregas at the expense of holding player Sergio Busquets with Alonso capable of playing from deep. Torres has obviously had an injury-interrupted preparation but his height would give Spain the chance to get crosses into the box. Adding Torres or Fabregas to the team would add an extra goal threat and ease the burden on Villa to score.
It looked like the superbly organised Swiss defence might struggle after 35 minutes when lynchpin Philippe Senderos was forced off injured. Instead, Steve von Bergen slotted seamlessly in alongside the rugged Stephane Grichting in the centre of a highly disciplined defensive unit. It was not until Spain introduced Jesus Navas and Torres after an hour with Switzerland winning 1-0 that the backline began to be troubled. It was Navas playing wide on the right that caused all the problems. Reto Ziegler had needed little protection at left-back against the sporadic forward runs of Spanish right-back Ramos but with Navas now stationed up against him he had his hands full. Fernandes eventually moved out wide to cover but not until Ziegler had entered the referee’s notebook for bringing down Navas.
It would be a surprise if Vicente del Bosque does not start their game against Honduras with the same 11 that ended the match with Switzerland. With Navas now seemingly over the anxiety disorder that has denied Spain of his talents for several years, Spain can add a genuine right-winger to their impressive arsenal. Busquets was largely redundant in the holding role and will be needed even less against the limited Hondurans. Having lost their first game, Spain must prioritise attacking pressure over patient possession with both the Swiss and Chile in strong positions in Group H after the opening games.
Spain – Casillas – Pique, Puyol, Capdevila, Sergio Ramos – Iniesta (Pedrito 77), Xavi, Alonso, Busquets (Torres 61), Silva (Jesus Navas 61) – Villa
Switzerland -Benaglio – Lichtsteiner, Senderos (Von Bergen 35), Grichting, Ziegler – Huggel, Barnetta (Eggiman 90+2), Inler, Fernandes – Nkufo, Derdiyok (Yakin 79)