Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Switzerland v Spain

Switzerland 1 Spain 0
Fernandes 52

Well now we've seen everyone, and everything. That's three shocks in two days.

Nothing much was expected of Switzerland. They'd managed to lose to Luxembourg at home during the qualifiers, and in the last World Cup they'd played out games against France and Ukraine which made any game this week look like watching Brazil. Spain, meanwhile, had won all ten games in their qualifying group, following on their triumph in Euro 2008. Ignoring friendlies, they were on a sixteen game winning streak.

They're on a nought game winning streak now, and it's still hard to understand quite how it happened. They started strongly enough. There wasn't a lot of end product early on, but it was beautiful to watch. Xavi and Alonso were busy, confusing us with their names (Xavi ... Alonso is when Xavi passes to Alonso, Xabi Alonso! is when Xabi Alonso gets on the ball near the other team's goal, Xavi ... Xabi Alonso! is when the one follows the other, and X is pronounced like a French J), and Villa and Iniesta always looked capable of getting a conclusive shot in, even if they never quite did.

Meanwhile the commentating team were playing a blinder. Jonathan Pearce suggested Sepp Blatter might be in line for a Nobel Peace Prize because he was popular in Africa, a suggestion we should probably just draw a veil over, while Mick McCarthy was celebrating the top quality of the HD coverage. Great picture, you can see all the pain of him falling, was his analysis of one collision. I think he's noticed how we all see him, and he's starting to play up to it.

Switzerland were struggling to cope, as well they might. Grichtling got booked for a tug on Iniesta, and Senderos accidentally kicked one of his team mates, hurt his foot and had to be substituted. His dad is Spanish, thus the name. His mum is Serbian, but he's Swiss through and through, as anyone who saw him in the last World Cup will already know. I remember him battling through the South Korea game with blood pouring from him, pulling a drab team into the knockout phase by the force of personality alone. Switzerland had lost their most spirited player. Who could help them now?

They had one decent chance in the whole first half. Siegler took a free kick from just outside the box, and Casillas saved well. See, even if you get anywhere near the Spanish goal, they've got Casillas in it. What could possibly go wrong?

Early in the second half we found out. Fernandes and Derdiyok got into the box together, and Derdiyok had the shot. The ball bounced off everyone in the box in turn, rolled along in front of the goal with the Spanish prone all around it, then stopped and waited for Fernandes to tap it in. A scrappy goal after all the Spanish artistry, but every flick and step over is worth exactly zero goals in the final tally.

McCarthy was thrilled. The talented showoffs with all their entertaining ways were losing to brute force and ignorance and that's how he likes it. The Spanish brought Torres and Navas on.

Torres has been injured, and wasn't considered match fit for the whole game. Navas is less well known in this country, as he plays for Seville, but he was arguably the livelier of the two. The rest of my notes just say Torres shoots, wide or Navas shows great pace to get in the box, but shot easy for keeper. Oh, except for Derdiyok hits post, very unlucky and Barnetta (Swiss) on break, shoots from 30 yards, just over. Once they started to harry Spain a little more, the Swiss did a lot better.

Towards the end they not surprisingly fell back in numbers, and there was constant pressure on the Swiss goal, but no clear chances. It was as if the game was looking for melodic closure, by recapitulating the theme from the opening. After a frenetic injury time coda, the whistle sounded the final plaintive note. The Spanish had lost.

They sank to their knees in frustration, while the Swiss jumped all over coach Hitzfeld. He's won the Champions League with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, which might have given us all pause if we'd thought on before hand. As for me, I forgive the Swiss for being so boring last time. It was a defensive display, but there was no way they could have competed with Spain in an open game, and they deserved their win. I think I'm turning into Mick McCarthy.

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