In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock, and now this. Everyone promised that World Cup 2010 would really kick into gear when Spain played. They were right, but for all the wrong reasons.
To say this result was the shock of the round would be to do it a disservice. This was a Spanish side who won 10 qualifiers out of ten. Who since Euro 2008 had played 26, won 25, lost 1 and averaged three goals a game. Who did this to Poland just last week. The second best team in the world according to FIFA, most people’s tournament favourites, and just about everyone’s second team. Switzerland lost 2-1 at home to Luxembourg and have Philippe Senderos.
How did they do it? First and foremost, by defending. Spain had 67% of possession. Ten shots on target, another ten off target, and 12 corners. Switzerland were under the cosh from the first whistle to the last but still kept a clean sheet and made one of just three shots on target count.
It is easy to sneer in hindsight. Spain lacked a plan B, Villa was poor and Torres worse when he came on. But that midfield sparkled as always; no team has used the ball as well as Spain in this World Cup and on another, luckier day they might have had five or six. For most of the match but especially after Switzerland scored this had the air of a training session; fluid attack against stolid defence.
The signs were there early on, Xabi Alonso misplacing a pass to audible surprise from the stands; David Silva miscontrolled on the touchline, conceding a throw. Sergio Ramos was set free down the right, had options in the middle, but cut in and thrashed a shot into the side netting.
But still you just expected Spain to win. When Switzerland did get possession they gave it straight back: the 8-0-2 formation they were playing at times in the first half only really gives one outlet ball so the Spanish were soon back on the attack. Iniesta shot tamely from distance and saw it saved. Some nice control from Gerard Pique, turning his man inside and out, resulted in another weak shot the keeper held comfortably.
It continued for the rest of the first half. Iniesta was clean through and pulled back by Stéphane Grichting. The Auxerre defender was the last man but Howard Webb showed only a yellow. David Villa thumped the resulting free kick straight into the wall, rather desperately appealing for handball.
Much of the pre-match attention focused on Philippe Senderos; born to a Swiss mother and Spanish father, Senderos could have chosen to represent either nation and has previously spoken of his desire to face Spain on the biggest stage. An ankle injury forced his removal after just half an hour and he looked devastated as he left the pitch. But his departure served to galvanise his side, who began to look more comfortable in possession and were quite happy to sit back and let Spain try to thread their way through them.
After 52 minutes the goal came and turned this match on its head. Of course, playing against Spain a pretty passing move just wouldn’t do, so this goal had to be route one. A huge goal kick was flicked on to the excellent Eren Derdiyok. A few lucky bounces later Gelson Fernandes, once of Manchester City, found himself with the ball at his feet and bundled home.
Within ten minutes del Bosque made his move, Jesus Navas and Fernando Torres replacing David Silva and Sergio Busquets. Torres joined Villa up front while Navas assumed Silva’s position on the right wing. Navas was bright but his final ball often frustrated. Torres, though, was terrible.
He has his excuses – just back from the latest problem in an injury-ravaged season, poor club form, and a new haircut. But nothing could excuse him when, put through by Villa on the shoulder of the last defender, his first touch was so poor that it ran 30 yards for a goal kick.
Xabi Alonso came closest for Spain, who with Switzerland winning every single header found themselves needing to be creative with their corners. One was driven low to Alonso on the edge of the area and the Real Madrid man crashed a shot off the underside of the crossbar.
It clearly wasn’t Spain’s day and Switzerland very nearly made it two, a fantastic run from Derdiyok culminating in him somehow turning Pique and Puyol at the same time, before flicking a shot off the foot of the post.
After five frantic minutes of injury time ended with Xavi sending a shot high into the stand, Webb blew his whistle and the Swiss players looked like they’d won the tournament. They may not have won it but they’ve certainly woken it up. This was a masterclass in defending orchestrated by the veteran Ottmar Hitzfeld, and Switzerland will go into next Monday’s game against Chile brimming with confidence.
Spain must still be favourites to win their remaining group fixtures – Honduras are poor, and Chile couldn’t defend for 90 minutes if their lives depend on it – but will be all too keenly aware that whoever finishes second in Group H will likely face Brazil in the second round. The favourites will have to do much better than this.