Switzerland finally return to action with their first game of 2020 on Thursday, when they meet Ukraine in Lviv.
It has been 10 months since Vladimir Petković’s men qualified for EURO 2020, but so much has changed since. The coronavirus pandemic brought football – and life – to a halt, and while the curtain on the international stage has finally risen again, it will not be the same as before.
The Nati’s Nations League campaign begins in Lviv, as they face a Ukraine side who are not to be underestimated. Under the leadership of record goalscorer Andriy Shevchenko, they earned promotion to League A and reached EURO 2020, all while falling to defeat just once.
Switzerland will be hoping to repeat their previous heroics in the competition, when they reached the final four at the first time of asking. It would be a remarkable feat to return to the finals, but they will need to get off to a strong start in eastern Europe.
|Date||Thursday 3rd September 2020|
|Time||21:45 local time (19:45 UK)|
|Venue||Arena Lviv, Lviv|
|Where to watch||SRF Zwei (SUI), Sky Sports (UK)|
Petković was without a string of injured players when naming his squad on Friday, opening the door for two debutants. FC Zürich youngsters Simon Sohm and Becir Omeragić earned their first callups to the senior setup, after making 31 and 24 appearances respectively in the Super League last season.
Xherdan Shaqiri is one of the key injury absentees for Switzerland, casting doubt over whether he has a future with the national team. Fabian Schär, Denis Zakaria, Remo Freuler, Admir Mehmedi and Cedric Itten also miss out through injury, while Eray Cömert, François Moubandje and Edimilson Fernandes have all been dropped.
Ukraine named a typically strong squad for the Nations League, including Premier League pair Oleksandr Zinchenko and Andriy Yarmolenko. The Yellow and Blue’s preliminary squad features eight uncapped players – many look likely to be cut from the final squad – led by veteran goalkeeper and captain Andriy Pyatov.
Ukraine have been invincible for the last two years, currently on an 11-game unbeaten run stretching back to November 2018. Their 4-1 defeat to Slovakia is the only game they have lost in three years, since beating the likes of reigning European champions Portugal and thrashing Serbia in Lviv.
Earning promotion to League A was soon followed by qualification for EURO 2020, as Shevchenko’s side won Group B without losing a single game. They will relish the chance to face the Netherlands and Austria in next summer’s tournament, but their current focus remains on starting the Nations League in style.
Switzerland’s EURO 2020 qualifying campaign was less simple, when defeat to Denmark left them four points adrift in third. However, three consecutive wins in their last three games ensured that the Swiss finished top of Group D, earning a place at their fifth European Championship.
Although the Nati can make it four straight wins on Thursday, their previous form gives for concerning reading. A run of one win in six last year was simply not good enough, and with huge games coming up against Germany and Spain, there is little room for error from Petković’s men.
Ukraine and Switzerland have met just twice before, with both games ending all square. Their last meeting came a decade ago in a friendly, which ended 2-2 in Geneva. Alexander Frei’s brace was cancelled out by Ukrainian pair Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka – both of who are in the squad to face Switzerland.
The last and only competitive encounter was 14 years ago, in the 2006 World Cup knockout stage. It ended goalless after 120 minutes in Köln, as the two faced off in a penalty shootout for a place in the quarter-final. The game is infamously known for being one of the poorest in World Cup history – especially by Swiss standards.
Switzerland missed all three penalties, and although current manager Shevchenko also failed to convert, Ukraine scored their next three to progress to the final eight. The Nati were on the verge of their first quarter-final in 52 years, but fell at the final hurdle in agonising fashion.
Ukraine would be knocked out by eventual champions Italy, yet Switzerland left Germany with a new record. They became the first team in history to not concede a goal at the World Cup, with goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbühler going 400 minutes without conceding a single goal.
My Nati lineup
Petković has favoured a back three in the last year, but using a back four to maintain a solid backline is absolutely crucial. Nico Elvedi will return to partner Manuel Akanji in Schär’s absence, after a brilliant Bundesliga season with Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Kevin Mbabu can claim his spot at right-back now Stephan Lichtsteiner has retired, leaving Granit Xhaka to officially captain Switzerland. With options scarce, BSC Young Boys’ Michel Aebischer should partner up with Xhaka in the midfield pivot, earning what would be just his second cap for his country.
Steven Zuber is back from injury and raring to go after joining Eintracht Frankfurt last month, with Christian Fassnacht out on the right flank. Haris Seferović should return up top as Switzerland’s target man, as he looks to add to his 18 goals for the Nati.
On paper, this is Switzerland’s easiest opponent of the group. In reality, it is a tough trip to one of the continent’s underrated underdogs. The group of death offers no easy route out, and while playing behind closed doors could play into the visitors’ hands, Ukraine will show little sign of remorse.
The Nati are without important players and could show signs of rust in their first game back, but at the end of the day they are capable of performing. It will be difficult in Lviv, but if they can seize control of the game early on, Switzerland can come away with the perfect result to open their Nations League campaign.
My prediction: Ukraine 0-2 Switzerland
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