Three quick thoughts: Switzerland-Spain (World Cup Group H)
Three quick thoughts after Switzerland's 1-0 victory over Spain in Group H on Wednesday:
1. Stunner. What else can you call it? Switzerland's 1-0 win in Durban throws Group H into a major muddle. In a sentence that seemed preposterous to write hours ago, the Swiss are now favored to go to the knockout round assuming they defeat Honduras on June 25. This result also means the Spain-Chile match on the same day will likely be an elimination game. The Spanish had more than enough chances to win or draw against the Swiss but they were both unlucky and denied by some superb goaltending by Diego Benaglio. Spain entered the game on a 12-game winning streak -- it also had not lost to Switzerland in 18 meetings -- and the defeat was just the team's second in 50 games. Spanish fans will understandably be at DEFCON 1 for the next three days as you can imagine what the press coverage in Spain will be like. No team has won the World Cup after losing the opening match. Can Spain overcome this unthinkable result? That's now the main storyline of the first round.
2. A smash-and-grab raid. That's how ESPN's Robbie Mustoe described the winning goal. It wasn't the most artistic of finishes but Switzerland's Gelson Fernandes delivered off a goal-mouth scramble that featured a Spanish mixup in the back line as keeper Iker Casillas challenged a counterattack and left his goal open. (One wonders if the blood dripping from the mug of Gerard Pique becomes a symbol of this World Cup for Spain). Casillas was later given a huge gift when Swiss forward Eren Derdiyok made a terrific run in the 74th minute and beat him. Alas, the ball dinged off the post. Spain controlled 63 percent of possession and had 24 shots, including eight on target. The Spanish also had a 12-3 advantage in corners. But misery was the story for the European champs.
3. The Swiss can defend. Remarkably, the Swiss won this game without injured striker Alexander Frei, the country's all-time leading marksman with 40 goals in 73 games. Switzerland showed zero offensive dynamism until its stunning goal in the second half. Understandably, coach Ottmar Hitzfeld focused on being cohesive and compact at the back, defending at times with nine players. It worked. Benaglio, the goalkeeper for Wolfsburg last year when it won the Bundesliga title, was incredible, the man of the match by a landslide. He made a gorgeous first-half save on defender Pique, who received a gorgeous through-ball from Andres Iniesta, and bravely challenged David Villa on a through-ball in the 60th minute. He stayed steady when Fernando Torres came on as a sub in the 61st minute and got lucky when Xabi Alonso's right-footed cracker hit the top of the crossbar in the 69th minute. (The shot easily beat Benaglio.) The second half was thrilling stuff but it was set up by the great defending by the Swiss in the opening half. How's this for a stat: The last goal against Switzerland in a World Cup occurred at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., in 1994, scored by none other than Spain.
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