‘The best Switzerland national team that has ever existed’? Murat Yakin will certainly need to proffer more evidence to back up that particular claim, despite his Swiss side starting their World Cup campaign with victory over Cameroon.
Of course, in the context of their result, Yakin will give few sh*ts that Switzerland looked unimaginative while seemingly going through the motions for large parts of their opener. Points not performance is the objective at any tournament and in that respect at least, Yakin’s are off to a flier, especially given the difficulty any side might have in progressing from Group G.
Perhaps they are primed to build through the tournament, with Brazil next and Serbia up last before Switzerland anticipate a fifth knockout stage in their last six tournaments. Best ever or not, they will have to be much better when they meet the favourites and another side strongly fancied to be this year’s dark horses.
Indeed, in a drab first half against Cameroon, Switzerland were very much second best. Yakin’s side managed not a shot on target with their only two attempts of note coming from left-wing corners. In contrast, Cameroon wasted two glorious early opportunities as they sought to rattle the best defence in European qualifying.
That was as good as it got for Cameroon. After the break, they faded, perhaps deflated after going behind as a consequence of the game’s first and only real moment of fluidity.
Despite Cameroon retreating into their well-rehearsed 4-5-1, Switzerland built from the back, switching the play from left to right with a sequence of quick, penetrative passing. The most crucial contribution, before Breel Embolo’s finish, came courtesy of 2023 Ballon d’Or nominee Granit Xhaka, who broke the Cameroon line with a fizzed pass into the feet of Remo Freuler. From there, it was on for Xherdan Shaqiri to put it on a plate, yet again for Switzerland. Shaqiri has now had a hand in half of his nation’s 24 goals in the last four major tournaments.
The cut-back, behind a flatfooted Cameroon defence, made it so that Embolo could hardly miss. The Monaco striker was a reluctant match-winner, with Embolo offering a lesser-spotted muted celebration on the international stage. Against the country of his birth, we can forgive him for that. #Respect. The most shocking aspect of Embolo’s goal was the caption that showed him to still be 25 years old; he must have been about eight when he was first linked with Manchester United.
Having achieved the breakthrough, Switzerland found themselves under little threat whatsoever. Cameroon mustered little in the way of a fightback, with Yakin’s back four waving off Eric Choupo-Moting before pocketing his replacement, Vincent Aboubakar. Rather than bare their teeth in the chase for an equaliser, the Indomitable Lions sloped off away while suffering for their seventh successive defeat at a World Cup finals. If they go down to Serbia and Brazil, certainly not unlikely given their second-half performance, then Rigobert Song’s side will equal Mexico’s record for the longest losing streak.
Switzerland must improve, Yakin will be certain they will, and it is easy to believe him. Thursday’s team, with an average age closer to 29 than 28, was their second-oldest starting XI ever at the World Cup. Eight of them started their quarter-final defeat to Spain at the European Championship, with Xhaka only missing that defeat through suspension.
The Swiss want for neither experience nor a solid foundation, two things that could take them far. But, despite this crucial win, they will need to offer a far greater threat going forward to avoid the risk of being the odd ones out in Group G.
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