Spain 0 Switzerland 1
Spain: Casillas; Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Busquets (Torres 62), Alonso; Iniesta (Pedro 77), Xavi, Silva (Navas 62); Villa
Switzerland: Benaglio; Grichting, Lichtsteiner, Senderos (Von Bergen 36), Ziegler; Barnetta (Eggiman 90), Inler, Huggel, Fernandes; Derdiyok (Yakin 79), Nkufo
Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland sprung the biggest surprise of the tournament so far in Durban this afternoon with a brilliantly organised defensive performance to overcome Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain 1-0 with a goal from Gelson Fernandes.
From a tactical perspective, Spain lined up in the 4-2-3-1 system Del Bosque adopted in the absence of Fernando Torres through injury, leaving the recently-returned Liverpool striker on the bench and opting to play Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso as holding midfielders with Barcelona’s David Villa deployed as the lone forward. They were faced with a relatively compact Swiss 4-4-2, Blaise Nkufo and Eren Derdiyok left to fend for themselves up field with two deep banks of four behind them.
The first-half went by with little in the way of incident, chances for Villa and Pique and a potentially tournament-ending injury for Philippe Senderos the only real moments of note.
As expected, the Spanish had the vast majority of the possession (71% to Switzerland’s 29%) and pushed the full-backs up in an attempt to generate more width and increase the pressure on a Swiss defence that operated with their trademark robustness.
One of the key features of the Spanish system was the right midfielder (either Iniesta or Silva who switched wings with regularity) tucking inside to allow Sergio Ramos to roam down the entire right side, but the good positions Del Bosque’s side got in to were often wasted through a poverty of final ball.
Indeed, as the half progressed the Spanish appeared to become increasingly frustrated as they failed to create openings and their opponents grew in confidence and even attempted the odd counter-attack.
If the first 45 minutes were wholly predictable, Switzerland’s goal after seven minutes of the second period completely changed the face of the game. The goal, a scrappy effort from Gelson Fernandes, forced Spain to abandon their patient approach, with Torres and Jesus Navas being introduced for Busquets and Silva with half an hour to play.
Del Bosque’s substitutions switched his team to a 4-4-2 as they attempted to generate extra width and get in behind the Swiss full-backs, something they had struggled to do in the game’s early stages.
Navas in particular made a difference to the pattern of the match, causing Reto Ziegler, the Swiss left-back, serious problems and giving La Furia Roja the natural width they had lacked for much of the game. The Spanish dominated the latter stages, with Xabi Alonso hitting the bar with a superb effort from range and Torres getting into threatening positions. However the Swiss continued to pose an occasional threat on the break, Derdiyok coming agonisingly close to putting the result beyond doubt as he hit the post with just over ten minutes to go.
Despite playing under increasingly heavy pressure for so much of the game, Hitzfeld’s side defended admirably and, even with eight or nine players behind the ball as the game approached its conclusion, rarely looked at risk of conceding. Switzerland may have a reputation for negativity, but today it paid dividends and showed that possession football, no matter how pretty, does not guarantee success.
It may not have been the most aesthetic victory we’ll see this summer, but the Swiss will hardly care about that. This was a triumph for organisation and, as I wrote about New Zealand yesterday, the power of the collective over that of the individual.