World Cup 2010 (Day 6): European Champions Humbled

… Spain? Losing to Switzerland?

Perhaps we’ve seen it all now, but this edition of the FIFA World Cup keeps suggesting that maybe we haven’t, and there’s probably more craziness to come.

Spain huffed and puffed for 90 minutes but couldn’t put a hole in the Swiss defense. Switzerland, on the other hand, had few chances to take, but they clattered a goal home in the second half through Gelson Fernandes, and it was enough for a stunning upset of the reigning European champions and one of the favorites to win this World Cup.

Spain have work to do if they are going to add a World Cup trophy to their 2008 European championship.

Some may look at it as Spain being unlucky not to score one or more, given the advantage they held in possession (74%-26%) or in shots (25-9). But taking a deeper look at it, much of Spain’s work was a chorus of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

For example, there was a stretch early in the first half (around the 15th minute), where Spain neatly composed a sequence featuring 18 consecutive completed passes. However, the passing show also illustrated how a team can control the ball, use varied players in an attack, complete passes – and not go anywhere. The passes were a wandering tour of the midfield, and on the 19th, when Spain finally tried to connect on a pass up the left flank and deep into the Swiss defensive third, the attempt failed, and the attack fizzled.

One could argue that moving forward against the Swiss defense was complicated, since they had all 10 outfield players behind the ball. But given Spain’s knockabout at midfield, where else would the Swiss players be? There was no sense in charging forward and pressuring Spain, because they weren’t going to misfire on the simple, grass-burning, quick tap passing they were executing. Surely, Switzerland had to see what everyone else did, as well, in that these passes, while making for a nice visual, weren’t doing a damn to help Spain create a viable scoring chance. The passing looked like that of someone who just got FIFA for his XBox, and the only control he’s learned is how to make the short passes to the obviously open teammate. Sure, you can knock it around a bit, but there’s no danger to the defense.

Spain were victimized at times by bad decisions, as well. Shortly after the aforementioned passing sequence, Sergio Ramos found himself free at close range after some quality work. He chose to shoot, missing badly at the near post and not threatening Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, when there were multiple teammates in the center of the park dying for a pull back. Moments later, Gerard Piqué was denied when for a split-second, it appeared he wasn’t sure which foot he wanted to shoot with, having cleanly beaten his defender in the Swiss penalty area with a neat touch. By the time Piqué did shoot, Benaglio was well off his line and deflected the attempt.

As the game went on, Spain seemed to find more success working the flanks, at least in terms of more deeply invading the Swiss defensive third. But they encountered difficulty in using that advantage to create the kind of chances that such play and crosses would normally yield for a team so talented.

To add injury to insult, as it were, Pique was kicked in the head during the final seconds before Switzerland’s goal, a scoring play ESPN’s Robbie Mustoe accurately described as a “smash and grab raid.” The play was nothing more than a simple goalkeeper kick long up field, but a couple of neat passes, and suddenly the Swiss were charging at the Spain net. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas erased one threat by leaving his line and demolishing Eren Derdiyok (which makes me wonder if there would have been a PK called there had Fernandes not scored), before Pique had his head gashed open as Derdiyok flew through the air from the Casillas tackle. Neither Casillas nor the fallen Pique could collect the ball, and Frenandes tapped home a famous game-winner.

Contrary to Spain’s short, pretty passing that led to nothing, the Switzerland goal took the attack from end-to-end with just 6 Swiss touches of the ball (and a couple Spain deflections). It wasn’t pretty by any means, but there are no points for pretty. The saving grace for Spain is that they can still get to 6 points and potentially advance, and I’m not arguing that they didn’t play quality football today. However, it’s also a bit inaccurate in my opinion to say, “they did everything but score and deserved better.” Finishing, like anything else, is a skill. It involves positioning, shooting angles, and knowing when to pass even when a shot seems tempting.

I still think Spain will be fine and will advance, but it will be interesting to see what their lessons learned are from today.

For Switzerland, it’s a glorious three points, beating a side that had just one other loss in its last 49 matches (to the USA at last year’s Confederations Cup). It’s a stunning upset, really, and the Swiss deserve full marks for getting it done – more than just blowing it aside as Spain being unlucky to convert in the attack.

* Elsewhere, Diego Forlan scored twice (his 25th and 26th international goals) as Uruguay easily handled host nation South Africa, 3-0. Uruguay moved to four points through two games, and looked much braver offensively than the side that held France, 0-0, in its opener. South Africa, meanwhile, now have just 1 point and a -3 goal differential through two matches, making the chances of advancing somewhat remote. France and Mexico battle Thursday in Group A’s other middle-round match.

* Meanwhile, Chile defeated Honduras, 1-0. I’m not sure how far Chile is going to get in this World Cup, but they are a fun team to watch. They didn’t take advantage of all their chances, either, but they probably won’t be picky, since the win was Chile’s first in the tournament since a 1962 quarterfinal victory over the Soviet Union – an event Chile hosted. Tonight, Chile and Switzerland find themselves atop Group H. Remarkable.

Yeah, it had been a while since Chile won a game in the FIFA World Cup.

On Thursday, we are in full swing with teams playing their second matches. The aforementioned France-Mexico clash is the 2:30 p.m. Eastern kickoff. The morning doubleheader features Group B, with Argentina-South Korea at 7:30 a.m., and Nigeria-Greece at 10 a.m. Personally, I can’t wait for Argentina-South Korea. A true test for both sides and one that may well decide the group winner. It should be a good day, and I’ll be here Thursday evening to recap it. In the meantime, share your thoughts about Day 6 or other World Cup issues below in the Comments section.

Argentina 3-2 South Korea
Nigeria 1-0 Greece
Mexico 3-1 France

Today’s Record: 1-2.
Tournament Record: 8-9. (ouch)


2 thoughts on “World Cup 2010 (Day 6): European Champions Humbled

  1. Spain second loss in its last 49? Must be nice to play in Europe where 2/3 of your games are against the likes of Moldova, the Faroe Islands, or Scotland. They evidently only lose when it matters.*

    *Euro 2008 excepted.

  2. People have been comparing the Spain v. Swiss game to the Spain v. U.S. game. All I can say is that Spain seemed better able to pressure the US than they did against the Swiss yesterday, playing many more optimistic, penetrating passes through our defense, the vast majority of which we cut out, but some really causign massive problems. Against the Swiss they stuck around the edges, and the Swiss plugged those gaps.
    On the other hand, the US looked much better last year on the attack than the Swiss did, though I think people have been neglecting that golden opportunity that came off the post, which could have given Switzerland a big 2-0 win.

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