Switzerland and Sweden meet each other for the first time in a major tournament on Tuesday as they go head-to-head in the round of 16 at the World Cup.
Vladimir Petkovic will be forced into a couple of changes to his Swiss side as Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar are both suspended. Michael Lang and Johan Djourou are set to be drafted in as replacements.
Sebastian Larsson meanwhile, is certain to miss out for Sweden after being stretchered off against Mexico while he would be suspended as well anyway.
PIVOTAL SWISS DUO
Given the exploits of Russia, Mexico and Croatia at this World Cup, Switzerland have somewhat flown under the radar as dark horses despite their impressive progress in the tournament so far. Two players have been absolutely key to their structure during it all. Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami as the double pivot in midfield has held this Swiss side together.
The latter is the one tasked with dropping in between the two centre-backs as the full-backs push up, affording Switzerland a numerical advantage over the opposition’s attackers, making it easy for them to play out from the back. Meanwhile, Xhaka shows for the ball and is the primary recipient of the ball out from defence. From there, they can begin to build an attack.
The Arsenal midfielder has been accomplished in possession, averaging 84.3 passes per game while maintaining a success rate of 90.5 per cent. He poses a goal threat as well as evidenced by his sublime strike against Serbia.
Switzerland haven’t been the most exhilarating team to watch in Russia but with Behrami and Xhaka in their engine room, they’ve proved to be a formidable force.
Much was made about the possibility of the iconic though aging Zlatan Ibrahimovic coming out of international retirement to take part at the World Cup but after initially fuelling speculation, the Swede decided against the move. While several fans would’ve been excited by the prospect of the former Manchester United striker making at appearance in Russia, it worked out for the best.
The 36-year-old hadn’t kicked a ball during qualifying and his inclusion for the tournament wouldn’t have gone down well with the players who toiled to secure Sweden’s spot on the world’s stage.
The team has excelled during this campaign in his absence, with a dramatic turn of events in the final group game leading to them finishing as winners over Germany, South Korea and Mexico. The Swedes’ play hasn’t been easy on the eye but they’ve managed to remain solid as a unit and take their chances at the other end.
They’ve no doubt been fuelled by a strong spirit within the squad as well, ably led by an inspirational Andreas Granqvist who’s been a rock in defence. Despite their shortcomings in terms of creativity, their work ethic and discipline in defence, has made them difficult to play against, something Sven Goran Eriksson as alluded to.
“I know that everyone wants to avoid Brazil, and maybe rightly, but I think it is easier to score against Brazil than against Sweden.
“Sweden are not playing the best football in the world, but to score against them is very difficult.”
It’s been three years since Breel Embolo was dubbed Switzerland’s wonderkid and while he hasn’t quite realised his potential since, glimpses of his much raved about talent has featured at this World Cup. He had a particularly lively display when he was afforded his first start of the tournament against Costa Rica.
Only Shaqiri made more key passes than the 21-year-old in that encounter while no Swiss player won more aerial duels or completed more dribbles. Meanwhile, he made an immediate impact as he assisted Blerim Dzemaili for the opener. With Steven Zuber still a doubt through illness, Embolo can expect to retain his place on the left wing.
The youngster has looked bright even off the bench in the opening two games and should come into this fixture with plenty of confidence. While Zuber brings much to the table with his high-pressing and ability to pick out a pass, Embolo’s introduction offers Switzerland a different kind of threat.
The pacey winger can help stretch the defence, generating more width and posing a threat in behind. Shaqiri often prefers to drift inside from where he can play passes through the middle or have a shot at goal and with Embolo largely staying wide, that should keep Switzerland from playing too narrow.
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