St Petersburg: Switzerland go into their last-16 FIFA World Cup 2018 match against Sweden in St Petersburg on Tuesday with a much more exciting squad than those at past tournaments, but only victory will secure a lasting legacy for their so-called ‘Golden generation’. The Swiss may lack quality up front, but sound organization and teamwork have enabled them to overcome their shortcomings, although they are bound to be tested by the absence of their captain Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar.
The defensive duo, who are suspended after picking up two yellow cards each, are an integral part of the Swiss back line, and if the team is to progress at the tournament it must first work out how to cope without the two. But with players such as Ricardo Rodriguez, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, who ply their trade in Europe’s top leagues, the Swiss still have a decent chance of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since they hosted the World Cup 1954.
Draws with Brazil and Costa Rica and victory over Serbia secured second place in Group E for the Swiss behind Brazil, while Germany’s shock elimination means Vladimir Petkovic’s side face far more limited opponents in Sweden than they would have dared to hope for when the draw was first made.
Like the Swiss, the Swedes have gone about their campaign with a brisk, businesslike efficiency, with their only blip coming in their last-minute 2-1 loss to Germany, which was bracketed by victories over South Korea and Mexico. Both teams escaped the group stages with a minimum of fuss, scoring five goals each.
The goals have been spread around, with Swedish skipper Andreas Granqvist the only player on either team to have scored more than once in Russia, with both his goals coming from the penalty spot.
The group stages have shown that Sweden may be content to block the spaces in midfield without pressing too high and try to pinch a goal on the counter as they look to match or better their run to the semi-finals in 1994.
The plan will be to usher the Swiss down the wings and rely on their imposing center backs Granqvist and Victor Lindelof to deal with any crosses into the box.
Sweden coach Janne Andersson’s admission that he has a list of penalty takers sorted in his mind before the match tells its own story, and given each team’s well-drilled defense, a penalty shootout is not beyond the realms of possibility.
While that might offend the purists, Sweden midfielder Albin Ekdal has already responded to criticism that his side are not the most easy on the eye. “Who the hell cares?” he said. “We’re best at maximizing. We can’t compete with France or Spain when it comes to skill on the ball, but luckily football is not decided by ‘tiki-taka’ passes.”
Sweden are the underdogs going into their World Cup last 16 match with Switzerland but are counting on strategy and trust in the collective to help them reach the quarter-finals, their captain Andreas Granqvist said on Monday. The Swiss came through Group E unbeaten, winning once and drawing twice to finish second behind Brazil, while Sweden, whose defensive style of play has been criticised in some quarters, topped Group F despite being beaten by Germany.
“We know what got us this far,” Granqvist told a news conference. “We know Switzerland have been playing really well over a long period of time. “They are the favourites for the match tomorrow and that we would in any way underestimate them is not even in the cards. We know what brought us here — very strong collective defence and the courage to attack as well.”
With the teams evenly matched and neither boasting a wealth of attacking options, the tie could well be decided by a penalty shootout, and Sweden coach Janne Andersson said he had a plan for that eventuality.
“It’s my job to decide on the players who need to perform, in this case for the penalty shootout situation,” the 55-year-old said. “We’ve talked about it in the squad... and I’m going to rank the players, the entire squad in terms of penalties. We have a clear plan in place for what we’re going to do, but I’m not going to enter into any more details.”
Granqvist, who has scored two penalties in Russia already, said he was confident of adding to that tally if it came down to it, but was hoping Sweden could prevail in normal time.
“If we do get to penalties, Janne will decide the order and call the shots. I have absolutely no clue at this stage,” he added.
Beaten 2-1 by a last-gasp goal by 2014 champions Germany in the group stages, the Swedes were aggrieved over what they perceived to be excessive celebrations by the German coaching staff in front of their bench.
Andersson criticised the Germans in the wake of that defeat, but both his captain and him denied they gloated over Germany’s shocking failure to get out of their group.
“I think it’s unfortunate for Germany that they were eliminated,” Andersson said. “As far as we’re concerned we don’t really worry about how other teams are doing. There was absolutely no gloating whatsoever in terms of Germany or any other team for that matter.”