Switzerland boss Vladimir Petkovic insists reaching the last 16 of the World Cup was the “minimum objective” as they prepare to face Sweden next week.
An eventful 2-2 draw against Costa Rica in Nizhny Novgorod secured Switzerland’s place as runners-up to Brazil in Group E and paved the way for an all-European clash for a spot in the quarter-finals.
Blerim Dzemaili opened the scoring for Switzerland after they had been largely on the back-foot with Kendall Watson marking his introduction into the Costa Rica side by levelling with a second-half header.
Josip Drmic came off the bench to seemingly win it for the Swiss late on, only for a late Costa Rica equaliser coming courtesy of a Yann Sommer own goal as Bryan Ruiz’s penalty went in off the Switzerland goalkeeper.
The late leveller did not impact on Switzerland’s place in the group and now Petkovic is targeting a long run in the knockout stages.
“The round of 16 was the minimum objective that we set ourselves that we had to achieve,” he said in his post-match press conference.
“Now we can focus on our next opponent. It was a moment when I wanted to field my best players and make sure all of them play.”
Switzerland will have to make do without captain Stephan Lichtsteiner and fellow defender Fabian Schaer after the pair were shown their second yellow cards of the tournament against Costa Rica.
That means the duo will be suspended for the meeting with Sweden in St Petersburg on Tuesday but Petkovic is certain he has the strength in depth to succeed.
“We got two yellow cards but we have 23 players in our squad and I’m happy to have the trust in the remaining players,” he added.
“I’m sure all of the players we field in the future will give 120 per cent and I think the team can cope. It’s too bad for those two guys but it’s too late to lament that now.”
Brazil coach Tite said he would have a Caipirinha on the plane back to the team base in Sochi on Thursday night after his side booked their place in the last 16 with a 2-0 win over Serbia.
Paulinho and Thiago Silva provided the goals at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium but this was by far the most complete team performance Brazil have turned in at Russia 2018 so far.
Speaking to reporters after the match, the 57-year-old said: “I am at peace.”
Asked how he felt about Germany’s shock exit earlier on Thursday by making Brazil the clear favourites to win Russia 2018, Tite said: “We don’t live off expectations, we live off reality – we are getting better.”
He had much more to say about how his team has developed in the two years he has been in charge, how hard he finds it to leave such great players as Manchester City’s Fernandinho or Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino on the bench or the perils of reading too much into match statistics – Tite is known for his rhetorical flourishes and he was in full flow here.
He did not, however, answer a question about how well Philippe Coutinho is playing at the moment, because he said he does not like to talk about individuals, or shed much light on the injury that saw Marcelo limp off after 10 minutes.
A team official, though, was able to explain that the Real Madrid defender had suffered a spasm in a muscle in his back. It is too early to tell if he will be unavailable for Monday’s last-16 game against Mexico in Samara.
Paulinho was named man of the match, largely for his willingness to run beyond Serbia’s defence and it was on one of those forays forward that he was found by Coutinho for Brazil’s first goal after 36 minutes.
A reporter asked the former Spurs man if his time in the Chinese Super League was crucial to his rebirth as a goal-scoring midfielder.
Paulinho is not as loquacious as his boss but said: “Leaving England for China was good for me because I regained my self-confidence – I played well there and helped the club. But I’m here because I worked hard and I deserve it.”
That was the overall assessment of Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic, too.
“I would like to congratulate my opponent on their deserved win and congratulate on my team on the effort they put in and the way they fought,” he said.
“We were on the front foot until the goal but you’ve got to concentrate and this is how individual talent affects and changes games.
“In the second half we took more risks but we missed our chances. We tried to beat a powerhouse in football but came up short. It happens.”
And there was not much more that could be said about a contest that Serbia made a decent fist of, without ever really looking like they were going to cause another upset.
He was, however, asked what he said to Neymar when the Brazilian was fouled right in front of him on the touchline. It was undoubtedly a foul, and Adem Ljajic was booked for it, but Neymar rolled over five times.
“Ask Neymar,” grinned Krstajic, a no-nonsense defender as a player, before adding “I didn’t say anything untoward”.
It continued what has been an amazing 12-month spell for the Barcelona man, who was still playing in the Chinese Super League a year ago.
Here’s a closer look at Paulinho’s display in Brazil’s 2-0 win.
Goals – 1
Shots – 1
Assists – 0
Pass Accuracy – 88%
Key Passes – 0
Touches – 37
Paulinho may be polarising but when he gets it right he can be incredibly good, and Wednesday was one of those days. He didn’t get on the ball much – he rarely does – but the efficiency and intelligence of his movement means that he was usually in a dangerous position when he did. That quality led to the goal that set Brazil rolling.
Movement – Paulinho’s intelligent movement on the pitch is an underrated facet of his game. It was a clever run that brought about Brazil’s opening goal, exploiting a gap in the Serbian defence with lethal precision.
Touch – No one would associate the phrase “deft touch” with Paulinho, but this is a player who plays for Barcelona after all. That touch was on display when he scored.
37 touches is fewer than any Brazil starter bar their goalkeeper. Paulinho’s value lies in his movement pulling defenders out of position without being in possession, but he can still get on the ball more often than that. It’s no wonder he’s often the first player taken off for Brazil, as he was today, not counting Marcelo’s withdrawal due to injury.
A goal at the World Cup should silence whatever doubters Paulinho still has. He’ll never be everyone’s cup of tea, and there will always be critics who wonder how Paulinho fits into a talented Brazil side. Performances like this answer that question. His movement to score a famous World Cup goal was classic Paulinho, doing whatever it took to have an impact.
RATING – 7/10