After a year-long wait, EURO 2020 was finally underway.
Attention turned to Baku where Switzerland faced Wales, with both looking to join Italy on three points after their convincing win against Turkey on Friday night.
Group A was never going to be an easy ask, but for all the teams who lay in Switzerland’s way, Wales were the one who gave them the best chance of victory. Without their manager Ryan Giggs and with an aging core, the Dragons were an ideal opponent for the Schweizer Nati to open their EUROs campaign against.
Under the scorching hot Azerbaijani sun, it was time to face the music.
With no surprises in Vladimir Petković’s selection within formation or personnel, it was a full-strength Switzerland team to face Wales. That was evident from the Nati’s early control of the game, seeing most of the ball and dictating the flow of the match from the minute they kicked off in Baku.
But as the game settled down, it was clear that we would be watching a typical Switzerland performance. Lively in attack but without cutting edge, solid in defence but prone to a mistake. It should have come as no surprise to Swiss fans, yet the frustration was rife after the first half showings.
Petković’s gamble to switch to a back three was by far his boldest move yet as Switzerland manager, lining up with Manuel Akanji, Nico Elvedi and Fabian Schär at the back. Certainly the Nati’s strongest combination of centre-backs, all apt and fearless in their own regards.
It did allow Switzerland to push on out wide with the wing-backs, but that was not without its evident flaws of being caught out repeatedly.
Perhaps there was no better epitome of this than when Daniel James found some space on the left, drove into the final third before being cynically floored by Schär, who was subsequently booked. In a back four, the full-back would have covered Schär, but instead it left the Swiss thin in numbers and unable to cope with James’ speed.
Nevertheless, there was some impressive defending on display.
Elvedi did not look like he was making his major tournament debut, with excellent positioning on the right side of the back three and displaying his excellent tackling all day long.
Sommer was as reliable as ever inbetween the sticks, looking like a fresh-faced goalkeeper rather than a 32-year-old authority. A stunning save from Kieffer Moore’s header was the standout of Sommer’s display, reminding Europe why he is one of the finest in the trade.
However, Switzerland’s star defender was Kevin Mbabu, who was outstanding from start to finish. An unjust booking may tarnish his performance, but the Wolfsburg man was flawless throughout. Firm tackles, brilliant runs forward and some great deliveries into the box, albeit to no avail at no fault of his own.
The positives extend to the Nati’s attack, who although did not have their shooting boots in the first half, took their chances in the second. With Haris Seferović misfiring, the responsibility fell to Breel Embolo to head home emphatically, hard and firm into the ground to give Switzerland the lead four minutes into the second half.
Embolo was the brightest spark in attack, redeeming himself for a sloppy first half with an influential 45 minutes after the break. The 24-year-old is someone who is yet to live up to his fullest potential, but at the current rate he is progressing, we may be yet to see the full form of Breel Embolo.
Switzerland showed positive signs in attack and defence, but ultimately, it was not enough.
With the game entering its final stage, the Swiss just turned off. Defending a Welsh corner, they were not ready nor set up correctly, gifting Moore a second bite of the cherry as his smart run gave him a clear header on goal past Sommer.
Was it a great goal, and in turn a warranted equaliser for Wales? Of course. But the issue comes in the fact that it was easily preventable, and a goal conceded at the fault of the Swiss.
Switzerland lost focus at the crucial moment, with Schär not watching his man and no player ready for the incoming cross. It ultimately cost them two crucial points in a competitive group, something which could certainly come back to bite them.
By the time Mario Gavranovic had come on with eight minutes to go, it was too late. He should have been brought on far earlier – if not playing from the start – and his disallowed offside goal was the final nail in the Nati coffin.
Switzerland now have the responsibility to pick themselves up and go again, leaving Azerbaijan as the more disappointed of the two countries. It was not a poor performance by any means, but one which has flaws to fix and improvements to be made before their next game on Wednesday.
Wales will be content and rightly so, admittedly demonstrating their fighting Welsh spirit to claw themselves back into the game.
Yet for Switzerland, who now have to go to Rome for a testing clash against Italy, the job has become that bit more difficult. The Nati are capable of great things – they just need to show that they are capable of fulfilling that.
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