In what will certainly rank as the biggest upset of this World Cup so far, Switzerland edged out title favourites and European Champions, Spain, in a game dominated by the latter. A Gelson Fernandes goal in the 52nd minute was enough to see Switzerland shock the Spaniards and go joint top of Group H.
Spain opened their World Cup campaign against Switzerland in the much awaited Group H encounter in typical fashion as the European Champions settled down into their quick passing game and dominated possession right from the first minute of the game. The first real attacking move came in the 17th minute when a lovely Xabi Alonso through-ball found Sergio Ramos behind the Swiss defense but the right back chose to shoot wide with Xavi and Villa waiting in the box.
The best chance of the first half fell to Gerard Pique in the 24th minute. Some exquisite passing between Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Andres Iniesta saw Gerard Pique with the ball at his feet with just the goal keeper to beat. The Barcelona man though was unable to put the ball in the net as Diego Benaglio pulled off a great save to deny Pique.
The first real chance the Swiss had was off a free kick in the 30th minute but Reto Ziegler shot straight at Iker Casillas who gathered at the second attempt. The Spanish pushed on though looking for an opening goal and it looked like they might score when Iniesta was put through on goal but he was brought down at the edge of the box by Stephane Grichting. The Swiss defender was given a yellow for his troubles but the Spaniards failed to take advantage as David Villa shot the ensuing free kick straight into the wall. The first half saw one last Spanish attack as another Spanish breakaway saw Xavi feed Iniesta who put David Villa through on goal with a wonderful pass. The Spanish striker controlled beautifully and cut in but his chipped attempt at goal was well wide and the chance was wasted. That would signal the end of a scoreless first half with the Spanish looking fluent but unable to break down a well organized Swiss defense.
The second half began much the same way as the first half had ended with the Spanish attacking with David Silva breaking into the Swiss box and winning a corner. Xabi Alonso though shot well wide from the ensuing corner. The Swiss won a free kick in the 47th minute but Puyol cleared from Barnetta.
Fernandes – shock goal, incredulous expression
More was to come from the Swiss though as they took a shock lead in the 52nd minute. A Swiss breakaway caught the Spanish defense off guard and a wonderful pass beat Puyol and put Eren Derdiyok through on goal. Iker Casillas rushed out to block the Swiss defender and the ball deflected off the Spanish custodian and fell into the box. Pique rushed back to clear the ball and in the melee that ensued, Gelson Fernandes managed to put the ball in the back of the net.
The goal stunned the Spaniards but their response was immediate. In the 59th minute, a wonderful ball by Xavi put Villa behind the Swiss defense but the Swiss goal keeper was quick to rush off his line to quell the danger. With Spain trailing, Del Bosque decided to bring on Fernando Torres and Jesus Navas in place of Sergio Busquets and David Silva and the substitutes had an immediate impact on the game.
In the 62nd minute, Navas got free on the right flank and fed the ball to Fernando Torres. The Liverpool striker did well to beat two Swiss defenders and passed the ball to Xavi who passed it to David Villa but the former Valencia man was tackled at the edge of the box. The ball fell to Iniesta who shot agonizingly wide with the keeper beaten.
It was all Spain from here on end as the Swiss tried to hold on to their one goal lead. A quick breakaway found David Villa with space on the right and he fed an advancing Torres. A bad first touch by the Spaniard meant that he had to cut back and, with his back to the goal, shot well clear of the goal.
The duo was at it again in the 69th minute. Villa, with space on the right, put Torres through on goal. The Liverpool front man though fluffed his first touch again and shot straight at the keeper who parried the ball out for a corner. The corner from Xavi fell straight to Xabi Alonso who was extremely unlucky as his long range shot hit the cross bar and bounced back into play.
The Swiss had a wonderful opportunity to go further ahead in the 74th minute when a Swiss counter attack put Swiss striker Derdiyok through on goal. The Swiss striker did wonderfully well to evade tackles from Pique and Puyol but saw his shot hit the post with Iker Casillas well beaten.
Andres Iniesta went off injured in the 76th minute, falling awkwardly after being tackled by Stephan Lichtsteiner. Pedro came on in his stead as Spain pushed on in search of an equalizer. The Spanish dominated extra time with Jesus Navas proving a constant threat down the right but were unable to find a way past a resolute Swiss team. The Swiss held on for a historic victory and left Spain with a mountain to climb.
The Hard Tackle’s Player of the Match:
Diego Benaglio (Switzerland)
The Swiss goal keeper had a great game. He was solid in goal and showed great presence of mind to deny the Spanish. His twin saves off Gerard Pique and David Villa kept the Swiss in the game and meant that Spain, who average close to 3 goals a game, ended the match with none. One has to mention the Swiss defense with Stephane Grichting and Stephan Lichtsteiner doing wonderfully well in defense.
The Hard Tackle’s Referee Report Card:
Howard Webb (England)
Referee Howard Webb had a good game, getting most of the decisions spot on. He allowed pay to flow and cautioned the players before pulling out any cards.
SPAIN 0-1 SWITZERLAND
Venue: Durban Stadium, Durban
Spain Line-Up: Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Sergio Ramos, Joan Capdevila, Sergio Busquets (61’ Fernando Torres), Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta (76’ Pedro), David Villa, David Silva (61’ Jesus Navas)
Manager: Vicente Del Bosque
Switzerland Line-Up: Diego Benaglio, Stephane Grichting, Philippe Senderos (36’ Steve von Bergen), Reto Ziegler, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Benjamin Huggel, Gokhan Inler, Gelson Fernandes, Tranquillo Barnetta (90’ Mario Eggimann), Blaise N’Kufo, Eren Derdiyok (79’ Hakan Yakin)
Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Caution: Stephane Grichting (30’), Reto Ziegler (73’), Diego Benaglio (90’), Hakan Yakin (90’)
Scorers: Gelson Fernandes.