For the second time in two World Cup matches Switzerland started agonizingly slow, their defensive plan disrupted and surrendering an early goal, while their attack was non-existent.
For the second time Switzerland fought back in the second half, but this time they scored two goals, not one, and defeated Serbia 2-1 in Kaliningrad Friday night.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s strike in the 90th minute was the difference, a goal that will likely advance Switzerland to the round of 16. Serbia faces a tough match against powerhouse Brazil.
Just five minutes into the game, Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic out-jumped Fabian Schar and headed the ball into the back of the net. Thirty seconds earlier he had latched onto another header, only to be denied by Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
It was the highlight of 20 minutes of Serbian dominance to begin the match. When Schar wasn’t being beaten by Mitrovic in the air, he was being tormented on the wing by Dusan Tadic on the wing. Time-and-time again Serbian players found Mitrovic in the box; in the 20th minute he even attempted a cheeky bicycle kick, apparently bored of winning headers.
But while the Swiss defense bent, it somehow managed not to break, and eventually got help from the rest of the team. The midfield, overrun by Serbia’s press, began controlling the ball for longer periods of time, and Switzerland spent the final 20 minutes of the first half on the attack. They controlled the ball, but rarely threatened.
Early in the second half that changed. Shaqiri’s curling shot from just inside the box was blocked, and rolled away from goal.
Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka was the first man on the scene, and he belted a 25-yard curler past helpless Serbian keeper Vladimir Stojkovic to even the game.
After the goal, the game swung back in Serbia’s favor, as they had a few chances to reclaim the lead. On another Tadic cross, Mitrovic was held back by two Swiss defenders. His appeal for a penalty fell on deaf ears, and the video assistant referee didn’t intervene. Minutes later Tadic whipped a dangerous low cross into the no mans land between keeper and his defense, but it was just out of the reach of his attackers.
With both teams tiring the midfield became easier to bypass, as attacks were countered with more attacks. As the game neared the 90th minute, a 1-1 draw — which would’ve been fair to both teams — seemed likely. It was then that disaster struck for Serbia.
Branislav Ivanovic’s cross was headed clear, and just two passes later Shaqiri was a on a breakaway from the halfway line, eventually slotting the ball past Stojkovic and ripping off his shirt to celebrate. Shaqiri made a nice diagonal run inside his own half before the ball was played, and Dusko Tosic bizarrely tried to play him offside, seemingly forgetting Shaqiri couldn’t be offside inside his own half.
Tadic and Mitrovic were a handful all night long, and Mitrovic — who was eventually given a yellow card for complaining one too many times — will feel hard done by the non-penalty call. But Switzerland was the more methodical side, and did well to take advantage of shambolic Serbian defending.
The group leader after the first round of matches, Serbia faces the unenviable task of being in third place and needing a result against Brazil to advance. Switzerland just needs to draw against already-eliminated Costa Rica.
Source: Kevin Draper