Switzerland time it right against Ecuador
Late winner from substitute Haris Seferovic completes comeback after Enner Valencia’s opener
A first stalemate of the World Cup beckoned but this World Cup is not ready for mundanity yet. In a sensational finish in Brasília, Ecuador squandered the chance to clinch victory in the final seconds and Switzerland broke down the other end to win with the final kick of the game. Ottmar Hitzfeld plans to retire after this tournament and may need an extended break to recover.
There were seconds left when Antonio Valencia escaped down the left and centred for the unmarked Ecuador substitute Michael Arroyo to finish. Oh Arroyo. Infamy beckons. He hesitated too long, Valon Behrami made a vital interception, and in the blink of an eye Switzerland had worked a low cross in from the left for Haris Seferovic to convert into the roof of the net.
The magnificent Estádio Nacional was stunned. There are seven matches in the capital this summer and it is doubtful any will witness a more remarkable finale. This was a test of Hitzfeld’s experience and Switzerland’s nerve and they passed convincingly. But only just.
Switzerland dominated possession and were rarely troubled in the first half. Perhaps that was the problem for a team beaten once in 18 matches over the past two years. For all their control there was an unmistakable sense that too many of Hitzfeld’s players were performing within themselves. They appeared content to coast when, with a little more aggression and less complacency, an Ecuador defence hardly renowned for solidity would have been exposed earlier.
That criticism did not apply to the Swiss captain, Gökhan Inler, or the Bayern Munich winger and Liverpool transfer target Xherdan Shaqiri, who drove their team forward and searched for openings at every opportunity, though the latter’s deliveries were over-hit several times. Twice in quick succession he crossed over a crowded penalty area and out of play, prompting Switzerland’s coach to kick the ground in frustration before urging improvement.
Hitzfeld’s team began brightly and Inler, who ended the first half with 91% passing accuracy, was at the heart of every promising moment. The Napoli midfielder played Josip Drmic through an alarming gap in the Ecuador defence, where Jorge Guagua made amends with a fine challenge, released Shaqiri for a shot straight at Alexander Domínguez and teed up left back Ricardo Rodríguez for an angled drive from 30 yards that was tipped around the post.
Yet it was all a little predictable from the Swiss, with too many shots from distance and inswinging crosses from the stocky Shaqiri making life comfortable for Reinaldo Rueda’s team. Ecuador were content to absorb pressure and use the pace of Jefferson Montero to telling effect down the left. Antonio Valencia was too often on the margins of the game to have a similar impact on the right.
Switzerland’s casual start cost them when a combination of dead-ball excellence and slack defending allowed Ecuador to open the scoring. The left-back Walter Ayoví whipped in an inviting free-kick from the left that Enner Valencia steered beyond Diego Benaglio with a textbook header. Inler had lost his man as the free-kick sailed over and Johan Djourou did not react in the centre, allowing the same combination that punished England in Miami to enable Valencia to score in his fifth successive international appearance. He has accepted the difficult task of succeeding the late Christian “Chucho” Benítez impressively.
The urgency Hitzfeld’s team desperately required was evident from the restart. Admir Mehmedi was introduced for the anonymous Valentin Stocker and with almost his first touch of the World Cup brought Switzerland level.
Poor defending at a set piece was again the cause, although that is being kind to Ecuador. Their defending was woeful as Rodríguez swept over a corner from the left. Three blue shirts were present at the near post but Mehmedi’s marker, Carlos Gruezo, did not bother to move and the substitute converted a simple header.
Ecuador had chances to regain the lead against the unconvincing Swiss goalkeeper, albeit he reacted well to a deflected free-kick from the substitute Michael Arroyo late on, but Hitzfeld’s side should have led before the dramatic finish. Drmic was onside when Rodríguez drilled in a low cross from the left and offside when the ball fell to Shaqiri inside the area.
Shaqiri, however, dummied the ball without making contact and it took a final touch off an Ecuador defender before Drmic beat Domínguez at close range. Another costly lapse from the officials in Brazil was quickly forgotten, however.