Petkovic confident that Switzerland’s hunger is not sated yet
Sweden stand in the way of World cup quarter-final slot
Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic gestures during a training session at the Saint Petersburg Stadium on the eve of the World Cup round of 16 match against Sweden. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images
While there is excitement in England over their way their half of the World Cup has seemingly opened up for them, the Swiss might be forgiven for feeling they are the actual favourites to make it to Moscow and more likely, if they get there, to get their name on the trophy; they are after all the significantly higher ranked side.
The country’s lack of World Cup success down the years seems to breed a certain circumspection, though, and their coach, Vladimir Petkovic, mentions the threat potentially posed by Gareth Southgate’s side as well as the more immediate one from Sweden as good reasons for not getting carried away.
Still, they too have been fortunate with the way things have worked out. Petkovic might reasonably have expected to encounter a Germany side still eyeing up a successful defence of their title at this stage, but is instead presented with the challenge of a Swedish side whose success so far has been rooted more in a tactical set-up that suits the players well and a tremendous team spirit than any really great talent.
“They kicked out Italy,” Petkovic points out, reasonably enough, and so command respect but the Swiss have lost just once in the 20 games they have played since exiting Euro2016 at the same stage on penalties to Poland. And after having started here so well there is a certainly a belief that if they play well they can stick around a little while longer.
“Getting this far was not the objective,” the coach says. “There is still the hunger to win this game and do more.”
With each passing round, though, the lack of a really top-class striker is bound to be regarded as a greater handicap and there is very little excitement about the expected return of Haris Seferovic for Tuesday’s game. Skipper Stephan Lichtsteiner and fellow defender Fabian Schär are suspended and set to be replaced by Basel’s Michael Lang and long time Arsenal centre back Johan Djourou.
The Swedes have been one of the stories of the tournament so far and Janne Andersson have fashioned an impressive defensive side in which the players know and embrace their roles and, clearly, work tremendously hard for each other.
The absent Zlatan Ibrahimovic still casts a bit of a shadow over their progress with the debate ongoing as to how much better or worse they might be with him. But on balance there seems to be a sense that they would not quite have generated the collective sense of purpose had he been such a dominant part of the set up. If they go out this evening that might change and the man himself will doubtless always wonder just what might have been.
Gustav Svensson is expected to start in place of the suspended Seb Larsson and Sweden will look to contain their opponents then hit on the break and from set pieces.
SWEDEN: Olsen; Lustig, Lindelöf, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson, Svensson, Ekdal, Forsberg; Berg, Toivonen.
SWITZERLAND: Sommer; Lang, Djourou, Akanji, Rodriguez; Behrami, Xhaka; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Embolo; Seferovic.