And again, we have an unexpected and head-scratching result. In the match-up of #2 Spain and #24 Switzerland, much of it went as most of us imagined it would: Spain out-shot the Swiss 24(8) to 8(3); they held possession 63% of the game; they had 12 corner kicks to Switzerland’s measly 3; etc etc. All is right with the football world, si?
Nein and non.* The 2010 World Cup’s first big upset came about when the Swiss won this match 1-0. Spain controlled much of the first half, passing well and moving where they wanted to, but not really taking or even creating many chances. Swiss keeper Diego Benaglio made a couple of good stops in the first half, and that coupled with a few deflections and shots sent wide or over the bar seemed to amp up the irritation in the Spanish players. David Villa throwing his arms into the air after Andres Iniesta launched a shot well over the net was a pretty good representation of what their inner monologues must have been. Switzerland was barely touching the ball, seeming content to just pack 10 men into the back line like so many sardines, with an occasional nudge forward. But that “park the bus” strategy sometiMes works, and they were able to shut Spain down and go into the half at 0-0.
The second half started out essentially with more of the same, until the 52nd minute when, through some scrambling and some poor defending, Swiss midfielder Gelson Fernandes put the underdogs ahead. Eren Derdiyok had broken through the Spanish defense and gotten around Iker Casillas. Gerard Pique tried to clobber the ball, but it squirmed free and Fernandes was able to get his foot to it. Soon after, Fernando Torres came on to some loud applause, and he did make an immediate impact in their movement and passing. Spain started pressing harder into the final 20-25 minutes, beginning with Xabi Alonso slamming a shot off the crossbar. They started forcing their opponents into more of a one-on-one defense rather than the Alps impersonation they were doing before, which seemed to frazzle the Swiss a little, as Spain’s movement continued to dominate. Derdiyok had a beautiful chance to increase their lead with an agile move through the defense and a smart shot, but it hit the post and was cleared out. When five minutes of stoppage time were announced, I was largely expecting a last-minute goal from Spain, just because the idea of them losing this match seemed so unlikely even still. But it didn’t come, and the Swiss were ebullient in their celebration of a major upset.
As I said before, these games are not played on paper. Spain would do well to remember that. Last year in the Confederations Cup, the US bested them 2-0 in the semi-final. Were we the better team? Not in the big picture, but we were on the day – partially because the team played very well, but also because Spain wandered in expecting an easy win, fearing little worthy opposition, and getting frustrated when they realized they were wrong. I think the same thing happened here, although it’s even more amusing because I don’t think the Swiss put on as good a performance as the USMNT did last summer. It’s rather petulant and silly to allow that to happen, and it’s a shame that the top teams don’t recognize that all the time. This is the World Cup, guys. Pack up your egos and bring your A-game.
*German and French count for the majority of spoken language in Switzerland. Italian is there too, but that’s just “no” so it’s not nearly as witty, damn it.