Durban delight: When little Switzerland toppled champions-elect Spain

(Jasper Juinen/Getty Images Europe)

On Friday, Switzerland and Spain meet again.

Perhaps these two will never have a more significant game as they face off in the EURO 2020 quarter-final. Spain are looking to reach their fourth European semi-final, while the Schweizer Nati have never made it to the final four in any major tournament (discounting the disputed Nations League).

The two countries did meet twice last year in the Nations League, with Spain winning the first encounter before a stalemate in Basel. But, when Switzerland and Spain do battle in Saint Petersburg, no-one will be thinking of their subdued meetings in 2020.

Instead, all minds will cast back a decade, remembering a historic day in 2010.

(Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

Spain were drawn with Chile and Honduras in their World Cup group, but first up was fellow European side Switzerland in the coastal city of Durban. La Roja, led by the pragmatic Vicente del Bosque, were the overwhelming favourites to win the 2010 World Cup, two years on from their commanding European Championship triumph.

Meanwhile, Ottmar Hitzfeld was leading Switzerland in his first tournament, following on from their disappointing group stage exit at EURO 2008. Starting their Group H campaign against Spain was the most difficult start possible, in a game which many expected to be a routine victory for the Spanish.

How could anyone be blamed for thinking otherwise? Switzerland were 22 places below Spain in the FIFA World Rankings, the European champions against the side eliminated in the group stage of their home tournament.

A country boasting the likes of Iker Casillas, Andrés Iniesta, David Villa, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué, to name a few.

David met Goliath in Durban – yet no-one could have anticipated what lay ahead.

(KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Spain dominated the chances and the ball, keen to leave their mark on the game early on. Piqué, of all players, came closest with a deft cut inside and shot on goal but Diego Benaglio denied the defender from opening the scoring.

For all that La Roja threw at them, the Swiss stayed strong and resilient in defence, something they had become renowned for in their style of play.

Goalless at half-time, surely Switzerland could not get something out of this?

Surely not…

Many dream of scoring the perfect goal, if any goal at all. Bicycle kick, volley, backheel – as glamourous and stunning as possible.

But when it comes down to the decisive moment, a goal is a goal.

(Photo by Jasper Juinen:Getty Images)

Fifty-two minutes in. Benaglio launched his goal kick hard and high into the sky, falling to Blaise Nkufo in the final third. As he laid it off to the on running Eren Derdiyok, the chaos ensued in the Spanish box.  

Casillas missed the ball completely, Piqué fell over Derdiyok and suddenly, Gelson Fernandes was through on goal.

From three yards out, he could not miss it. Fernandes only scored two goals for his country, one of them coming against Moldova. But in that moment, as he bundled the ball across the line, he entered his name into Swiss football history.

Pandemonium erupted for Swiss people all over the world, from Durban to Zürich. The Nati led the European champions in the most unlikely circumstances, striking the first blow in their Group H opener.

Switzerland had the lead, and from then on, it was all about holding onto that advantage for dear life. Spain threw everything they had at the Swiss, but it was their fight and grit which kept them in it. When Xabi Alonso’s terrific thunderbolt cannoned off the bar, that is when the Nati knew that luck was on their side.

(Doug Pensinger:Getty Images Europe)

The final whistle blew and history was made. Switzerland had beaten Spain, their first ever victory over the Spanish in 19 attempts. Durban was red that night – the red of Switzerland.

No-one will ever forget that game. It was the night where Switzerland proved once again that they can compete with the big boys, deserving of their place at the World Cup. It remains one of the greatest nights in Switzerland’s history, one of their finest victories and biggest moments in international football.

History was made that night in Durban – 11 years later, the Nati can do it all over again.

Switzerland are one game away from a first ever semi-final, a potentially magnificent feat for this small country. Reaching the quarter-final is one dream fulfilled, but going even further would be simply unbelievable for Vladimir Petković’s Nati. Ahead of their final eight clash on Friday, it does not hurt to dream.

In 2021, Switzerland have a stronger squad than they did in 2010. Better players, better harmony and a better manager, with the greatest respect to Hitzfeld and his team. There is a good reason that they have reached the quarter-finals of this summer’s tournament, such is their quality and drive to do the nation proud.

(UEFA/Getty Images)

Alongside Switzerland’s improvements, Spain are well past their golden generation which won three consecutive major tournaments. Still a strong squad with an accomplished manager in Luis Enrique, La Roja cannot be underestimated.

Yet, if Switzerland can beat the greatest Spanish side and arguably the greatest national team of all time, who is to say they cannot do it again?

Friday’s quarter-final in Saint Peterburg will be the sole focus for Petković and co., only fixated on their EURO 2020 campaign and the next challenge ahead.

Nonetheless, it was not the quality or the talent of Switzerland that helped them beat Spain 11 years ago. It was their team spirit, their passion, their motivation which guided them to victory. The fighting Swiss mentality saw them across the line, shocking the world and surprising even themselves in seizing all three points in South Africa.

The Nati of today would do well to embody that spirit, and from what we have seen so far at EURO 2020, they have done exactly that.

It is time for David to meet Goliath once again – but this time round, it is Switzerland’s battle to lose.

(Quinn Rooney – FIFA via Getty Images)

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READ MORE

Read my Switzerland articles here

Switzerland create Swiss football history – quarter-finalists at last

On the verge of history, can Switzerland stun the world champions?


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