Switzerland will look to make a positive start to their FIFA World Cup 2022 campaign when they face Cameroon at the Al Janoub Stadium on Thursday.

The tie featuring Switzerland and Cameroon could be a make-or-break game for both teams’ hopes of reaching the knockout stages. With Brazil predicted to win Group G, one of these two or Serbia will have to settle for second place.

Switzerland have gained momentum at precisely the right time with victories over the likes of Portugal, the Czech Republic, and Spain in the recent Nations League campaign. But they finished only third in their group and could not qualify for the next phase.

The Rossocrociati enjoyed an exceptional qualification campaign, going unbeaten in their eight games and finishing first in their group with 18 points, ahead of European champions Italy. Switzerland also reached the quarter-finals at UEFA Euro 2020 before bowing out on penalties against Spain while deservedly knocking out France in the process.

Switzerland have been given a rude awakening following an uninspiring 2-0 loss to Ghana in a tournament warm-up game. But that could only be a good thing if they can bounce back in style in the games that matter the most. They hope to reach the knockout rounds for the third time in a row, having previously finished in the Last 16 in Brazil and Russia, going unbeaten in the group stage in 2018.

With Premier League stars like Granit Xhaka, Fabian Schar, Denis Zakaria, and Manuel Akanji in their ranks, they have a solid chance of progressing to the Round of 16, and a win here against Cameroon would be a good starting point. Murat Yakin’s men certainly have the potential to disrupt the elites.

Cameroon, meanwhile, are back in the World Cup for the eighth time in their history after failing to qualify for the 2018 edition. The Indomitable Lions also fared well in their World Cup qualifiers, upsetting Ivory Coast 1-0 to claim the top spot in their group.

They were able to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit in a playoff against Algeria thanks to a Karl Toko Ekambi goal in the 124th minute of stoppage time to qualify for the World Cup on away goals. But Cameroon have lost each of their last six World Cup matches, finishing rock-bottom of the group in both 2010 and 2014.

They did finish third in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, courtesy of a third-place play-off victory. While they are outsiders to progress to the next round, a win over Switzerland would set Cameroon up nicely for their encounter against Serbia on November 28th.

Team News & Tactics

Switzerland

Swtizerland’s squad possesses experience and quality in all areas of the pitch and is well-balanced on all fronts while carrying some veterans.

Head coach Murat Yakin has something of a golden generation at his disposal and will look to take them as deep in the tournament as possible. Yakin tried an unusual 3-1-4-2 system against Ghana but could revert to a 4-2-3-1 after facing disappointment with the previous setup last time out.

Captain Granit Xhaka will be crucial to Switzerland’s prospects in Qatar. The highly experienced, combative central midfielder has over 100 caps for his nation and has been immense this season for Arsenal this season in a hybrid box-to-box role, notching up six goal involvements in just 13 league games. He will be partnered by the metronome, Remo Freuler, whose only job on the pitch is to keep things ticking along.

Premier League centre-back duo Manuel Akanji and Fabian Schar are in the form of their lives in domestic football for Manchester City and Newcastle United, respectively. Both are renowned for their match intelligence, defensive abilities, and ball-playing abilities.

The same goes for full-backs Ricardo Rodriguez and Silvan Widmar, both of whom like to push high up and deliver crosses into the box, although the former no longer has the legs to cope with dynamic wingers.

Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer picked up an ankle injury in early October but should be fit to start here. He will play an instrumental role in front of the goalposts, having previously starred at the Euro and the 2018 World Cup.

Xherdan Shaqiri is now plying his trade in the MLS, but he remains a handful for defenders to cope with and plays deadly crosses into the box. Red Bull Salzburg forward Noah Okafor will look to announce himself to the world on the biggest stage after starring in the Champions League this season.

Djibril Sow is also a highly versatile midfielder and will likely switch positions with Xhaka when the latter forays forward. Breel Embolo has had a flying start to the season with Monaco and will be looking to keep up his form on national duty.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Widmer, Schar, Akanji, Rodriguez; Freuler, Xhaka; Shaqiri, Sow, Okafor; Embolo

Cameroon

Cameroon recently changed managers, with Song promoted from the Under-23s’ position to the first-team position in March, following the third-place finish in the Africa Cup of Nations. Song has been in charge for five games, including the dramatic playoff win against Algeria, and has tested several different formations, from 4-3-3 to 4-1-4-1 to 4-4-2, in the warm-up games leading to the World Cup.

Given the striking talent at their disposal, 4-4-2 suits them the best. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, for one, has been riding on a red-hot scoring form for Bayern Munich this season. He is Cameroon’s star man and will hope to carry his nation’s dreams to Qatar.

Choupo-Moting’s strike partner Vincent Aboubakar, meanwhile, will look to break his duck in the World Cup. The Al-Nassr man is fresh from scoring eight goals at the 2021 AFCON and will lead the frontline here.

Add to the mix, Lyon attacker Karl Toko Ekambi’s fantastic pace, power, end-product, and trickery, as well as Brentford’s Bryan Mbeumo, who also enjoys making runs and attacking the penalty box from wide areas, and all of a sudden, you are looking at a competent World Cup attack.

But that potential has not always translated to goals, despite eye-catching build-up play, with Cameroon still struggling to gel their attack together into a functional unit. Their attack has, on occasions, looked out of ideas, and they have scored just twice in four friendlies leading up to the World Cup.

Napoli’s star midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa was carrying a knock heading into the tournament but has come through the friendlies unscathed. This is good news for the Indomitable Lions, as he is capable of bossing the game and buzzing all over the field. Hellas Verona destroyer Martin Hongla will provide defensive cover alongside the former Fulham man in a double-pivot.

Inter Milan goalkeeper Andre Onana is an undisputed starter and is critical in the build-up as Cameroon love to play out from the back and impose an intricate style of football on the opposition. That will not be the case with this group of elite teams. Nouhou Tolo, Jean-Charles Castelletto, Nicolas Nkoulou, and Collins Fai will form a narrow and compact back four.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Onana; Fai, Castelletto, Nkoulou, Tolo; Mbeumo, Hongla, Anguissa, Toko Ekambi; Aboubakar, Choupo-Moting

Key Stats

  • This is the first-ever meeting between Switzerland and Cameroon. It is only the second time the Swiss will face an African nation at the FIFA World Cup since beating Togo 2-0 in the group stages of the 2006 tournament.
  • Switzerland have a poor record against African opponents, having won only six of their 15 previous encounters against countries from that continent (D3 L6).
  • The Nati side have not been beaten in their first match of the tournament since a 5-0 defeat against Germany in 1966 (W2 D3).
  • Cameroon have lost each of their last seven FIFA World Cup matches and have failed to score in their three defeats since August.
  • Cameroon are without a doubt the most successful African teams in the history. They have appeared in the finals of the FIFA World Cup on eight occasions, more than any other African nation.

Player to Watch

Breel Embolo

Breel Embolo enters the 2022 FIFA World Cup not just as an experienced international player but also as one of Switzerland’s top performers in recent times. He was his side’s leading scorer during the World Cup qualifying campaign with three goals and also netted twice during their Nations League matches.

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In fact, seven of his 11 international goals have arrived since the start of 2021, including two in their last three matches. Embolo has been on fire for AS Monaco this season, with seven goals to his name from just 15 Ligue 1 games. And he will hope he can carry that scoring touch into the World Cup.

While he has never been a highly prolific customer in front of goal, he is scrappy, menacing forward who is a constant presser, makes brilliant forward runs, and works his socks off to help out in the defensive phase as well.

Standing at 6ft 2in, he has aerial prowess, and the strength to hold off defenders while maintaining possession and linking the plays. Not to mention, he’s rapid, has a power shot in his locker, and can score different types of goals.

Prediction

Switzerland 2-1 Cameroon

Switzerland head into the game as the heavy favourites to emerge victorious. But Cameroon may acclimate much better to the Qatar weather, giving them an advantage as the match progresses.

The Indomitable Lions are the underdogs but have some European quality in forward areas and midfield. On the other hand, Switzerland do not have a natural central striker, and lack the cutting edge in the attacking third despite boasting the lion’s share of possession.

If Cameroon play a low block, this will be a nerve-racking game for the Nati. But the Hard Tackle is still backing the favourites to come out on top. With Brazil on the horizon for their second game, Switzerland cannot afford to drop points against Cameroon, and their quality in key midfield and defensive positions should get the job done here.

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