Switzerland do enough to take place in World Cup last-16
Despite drawing 2-2 with Costa Rica the Europeans sealed second place in Group E
Switzerland’s Josip Drmic celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates in their 2018 World Cup Group E clash . Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters
After a week in which not much football has been discussed, Switzerland were probably just grateful to get this game out of the way without any disasters. Serbia’s defeat to Brazil meant they could have lost to Costa Rica and still qualified, but a 2-2 draw meant they ended the group stage unbeaten, and through to face Sweden in St Petersburg next week.
Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri’s potential suspensions for their, shall we say, ‘politically spicy’ celebrations against Serbia dominated the pre-match debate, and while the pair were ultimately allowed to play, for long spells they looked like a team who had spent the build-up with unwanted distractions.
Goals from Blerim Dzemaili and Josip Drmic sealed things for the Swiss, although the already eliminated Costa Rica were much the more entertaining participant in this game, managing their first goal of the World Cup thanks to Kendall Waston and an incredibly unfortunate own-goal by goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
Switzerland could have been two down in the opening five minutes had it not been for Sommer. Firstly he made a decent but semi-routine stop from occasional Arsenal forward Joel Campbell, then an utterly extraordinary save, low to his right, after Celso Borges thumped a header towards the bottom corner. It was one of those that looked like a glitch in a film: it took a moment to work out why the ball wasn’t nestling in the net.
He couldn’t do anything about Daniel Colindres booming shot a few minutes later, but mercifully for the Swiss that kissed the bottom of the bar and bounced back into play. Costa Rica were already out, but they looked determined to take Switzerland with them.
Not that the Swiss were making a particularly good fist of fighting that drag. They looked disjointed in attack and Xherdan Shaqiri, their matchwinner in the previous games, was anonymous. But, as seems appropriate in a World Cup that hasn’t made a huge amount of sense so far, they took the lead just after the half hour. Breel Embolo nodded down a cross at the far post, and Dzemaili was there in the middle to force it home. A remarkably simple goal, to the point that it made a mockery of their previous inertia.
Sommer – the Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper who takes his mind off the pressures of the modern game by writing a blog about gourmet cooking – made another fine save from Colindres, and at points in the first half it looked like he was the only Swiss player who realised this was a World Cup game.
Certainly the men around whom most of the pre-match discussion centred were broadly absent from any meaningful play. Xhaka and Shaqiri got away with relatively meagre fines after they celebrated goals against Serbia in what we’ll call ‘politically spicy’ fashion. For all the pair of them did in this game, they might as well have been banned.
Despite being ahead, Switzerland didn’t really improve after the break, and eventually the goal that any neutral wanted arrived. Until the hour mark Costa Rica had been the only team who hadn’t scored at this World Cup, but they got their goal when Kendall Waston, unencumbered by the inconvenience of being marked to any great effect, headed in from a Campbell corner.
From that point Costa Rica played freely, without the pressures of striving for a result, more like they were just having fun. When we’ve witnessed so many at this tournament creak under the strain of performing, it was enough to make the coldest heart nice and fuzzy. When Campbell tried a rabona for no practical reason, when a sidefooted pass would have been much more simple, you knew they were enjoying themselves.
The game might have wound down into irrelevance, but the last ten minutes were frantic. Firstly Josip Drmic looked to have won it for Switzerland, then Costa Rica were given a penalty only for an offside to rule it out. But then, a minute later, Campbell was taken down just inside the box and an actual spot-kick was given. Bryan Ruiz struck the penalty, it hit the bar and rebounded in off a hideously unlucky Sommer. – Guardian service
SWITZERLAND (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Rodriguez, Akanji, Schar, Lichtsteiner; Xhaka, Behrami (Zakaria 60); Embolo, Dzemaili, Shaqiri (Lang 81); Gavranovic (Drmic 69).
Booked: Lichtsteiner, Zakaria, Schar. Goals: Dzemaili 31, Drmic 88.
COSTA RICA (5-4-1): Navas; Gamboa (Smith 90), Acosta, Gonzalez, Waston, Oviedo; Colindres (Wallace 81), Borges, Guzman (Azofeifa 90), Ruiz; Campbell.
Booked: Gamboa, Campbell, Waston. Goals: Waston 56, Sommer 90 og.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France).