Another international break, another Nations League game. After a perfect start for both sides, Belgium and Switzerland prepare to meet in Brussels tomorrow evening for their second game of this new international tournament. For both sides, it is a huge chance to take one step closer to next year’s Nations League Finals.
Coming into the game, Belgium are on top of the world- literally. They are joint-first in the FIFA World Rankings alongside World Cup winners France, after enjoying a fantastic tournament in Russia where they finished 3rd, achieving their best ever finish at a World Cup Finals. For Belgium’s golden generation this success was long overdue, and led by in-form captain Eden Hazard, they are team to be feared.
Belgium got off to a great start in the Nations League, beating Iceland 3-0 in Reykjavik. Although they recorded an impressive win over the Vikings, the Schweizer Nati sit top of the table on goal difference, with both sides level on three points.
The Swiss sit 8th in the world, and travel to the Belgian capital off the back of a fantastic 6-0 win over Iceland in St. Gallen. After a great start to the new competition, Switzerland’s football controversy seems to be forgotten now. After a whirlwind post-World Cup summer that saw Valon Behrami and Gelson Fernandes retire from international football and Xhaka criticised for apparently not representing Switzerland, the great football currently on show is a welcome sight.
Despite all of this, Vladimir Petković is still shuffling his cards, as shown by his latest squad selection that saw captain Stephan Lichtsteiner emitted from the squad. Although the squad is missing the official captain, it still looks as strong as ever.
The two countries have met 27 times before, with Belgium the more successful with 12 wins compared to Switzerland’s 8. Recent history is also far more in favour of the Belgians, with Switzerland have won just one of their previous seven meetings with the Red Devils, a 3-1 victory almost 35 years ago in November 1983.
The teams last met in a warm-up friendly for Euro 2016, where Belgium defeated the Swiss 2-1 in Geneva. Switzerland took the lead through Blerim Džemaili, before goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku secured the win for the visitors.
Switzerland went on to reach the Round of 16 in France, being edged out by Poland on penalties despite a Xherdan Shaqiri wonder goal. Belgium on the other hand went one step further to the Quarter-Finals, before falling to the tournament’s surprise package Wales in Lille.
No Lichtsteiner and no Embolo are the only real challenges I faced when picking my squad, which otherwise would be identical to the one that faced Iceland four weeks ago. My defence was set in stone bar right back, where I have put Michael Lang in place of Lichtsteiner.
I was impressed with the midfield anchor of Xhaka and Zakaria, and I hope they start together again. Mario Gavranović remains in the line-up, but I have moved him into attacking midfield where Embolo would be, where it not for his injury which forced him to pull out of the squad.
The most surprising selection is the choice of striker. Despite my constant slander of him, I have put Haris Seferović up front. Although he constantly frustrates me and leaves me to question his place in the national team, he has been brilliant recently for Switzerland and Benfica.
A goal against Iceland was well deserved after a strong performance, and in October he scored in Benfica’s 3-2 win over AEK Athens in the Champions League. And to top it all off, he scored the winner in last Sunday’s O Clássico against Porto, in a 1-0 win which saw them go top of the Portuguese Primeira Liga.
To put it simply, he is in top form, and for the first time in years I truly trust him to lead the Swiss line when we play in Brussels.
In my match preview for the Switzerland vs Iceland game, I said “For reasons I cannot understand, Petković continues to keep faith in Haris Seferović to lead the Swiss line. Although he has scored vital goals for Switzerland in the past and has been a loyal servant to the national team, his time is up, especially as we have fantastic alternate opportunities available.”
To be honest, I still stand by this decision, but strong outings against Belgium and Iceland this weekend could finally change my mind.
It will be a very tricky test for the Swiss, who face one of the best teams in world football. Nevertheless, I remain as optimistic as ever, and have every confidence we can perform well. Besides, even if we lost tomorrow in Brussels we could confirm our status in League A for another season with a win in Reykjavik.
I’m going to go for a draw, which I would honestly take. Away days are hard enough, made even harder when you’re facing a team who had such a strong World Cup. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to this one, let’s hope it’ll be a happy evening in Brussels for the Schweizer Nati.
My prediction: Belgium 1-1 Switzerland