Switzerland finally are in their World Cup groove after a positive victory against bottom-of-the-group no-hopers Honduras hoisted them into second place and did a lot to banish the memories of that dismal 5-2 loss to France in Salvador. With Honduras still in the equation for qualification from the group, however, it was no easy task for Switzerland, but a superb Xherdan Shaqiri hat trick set them on their way to a Second Round tie with one of the pre-tournament favourites, Argentina.
Story of the Game
Switzerland started well from the first whistle, probing the Honduran defence with every opportunity. Unfortunately for them, very early on, the defence was reasonably well organised and quite combative, meaning that hoping to break them down while playing an attacking game wasn’t going to happen at 0-0 – fortunately for Switzerland, however, from Honduras’ first foray forward, the Swiss midfield broke forward at pace, feeding the ball into Xherdan Shaqiri who excellently curled the ball around a defender and the goalkeeper Valladares, meaning Valladares’ first real contribution to the game was picking the ball out of the net. 6 minutes gone, and Switzerland were cruising into the Second Round – but had to continue. A goal for Ecuador would make qualification an altogether more challenging prospect, meaning they’d require at least three goals to go through.
Honduras found themselves unable to respond, the Central American not exactly known as a goalscoring country in the World Cup – their only goal in the competition, indeed, coming against Ecuador last week – but they did have a good chance through full back Brayan Beckeles, who turned his man but couldn’t find the net – instead firing wide. Shaqiri also had another chance, this time firing way wide from range. Switzerland were content with their one goal, perhaps relying on the French attack that had dealt with them so effectively to get into action against Ecuador, but also knowing that Honduras weren’t likely to create or finish many good opportunities.
This style was reflected in the second goal. Gökhan Inler sprayed a sensational ball out to striker Josip Drmic on the wing, and the former Nürnberg man paced down the flank before squaring to Bayern Munich midfielder and goalscorer Shaqiri. Shaqiri made no mistake from just inside the box, slipping a lovely drive underneath Noel Valladares, and Switzerland had doubled their lead in devastating style just on the half hour mark. It was a momentous moment – both bringing Switzerland back to neutral goal difference, and also marking the first time Switzerland have scored two first half goals in the World Cup since 1966. Since that’s off their back, it’ll rain goals against Argentina, clearly!
Drmic nearly made it three on the stroke of half time, but Valladares dealt with the threat well – and the Swiss were happy to head in at the break two goals to the good. All they needed now was one more goal to put qualification well and truly in their own hands – but first, there were to be scares.
Jerry Bengtson had two great chances for the Honduras at the beginning of the first half, the first brilliantly saved by Diego Benaglio before Ricardo Rodriguez had to clear off the line from the second. Switzerland looked like they’d sleepwalked out of half time, with all the pressure coming from Honduras, and with qualification far from assured it was hard to understand why. Indeed, Ecuador were growing into the other game in the group, meaning Switzerland really had to be pushing for a third rather than having their lead halved.
Jerry Palacios then had a penalty shout denied by the referee – on balance, perhaps the wrong decision – as he was tripped by Johann Djourou just before he could fire a shot past Diego Benaglio.
Palacios went close again but Schär this time was equal to it, and soon it was Switzerland back on the front foot with Drmic running down the left similarly to the second goal. Again, he cut it back to Xherdan Shaqiri who finished neatly to put his side into an unassailable three goal lead, all but securing qualification as ten man Ecuador continued to struggle to score against France. Shaqiri’s goal sealed his hat trick, the 50th hat trick in World Cups and the second of the tournament overall. Bengtson nearly grabbed a consolation towards the end, but it was Switzerland’s night.
Overall, an excellent win for the Swiss, despite a few scares after half time. There are still elements of play that need to be addressed before they play Argentina, but given Argentina’s flaky defence, there could be more than meets the eye in that contest; as for Honduras, they made a valiant effort to keep their hopes alive but just weren’t of the quality to pick up a point this time around – maybe in 2018 they’ll do better.
Player Ratings (out of 10)
Noel Valladares – 6: Made some smart stops but should have done better on the second goal.
Maynor Figueroa – 6: Defended well for large parts of the game and wasn’t really at fault for the goals.
Victor Bernardez – 5: Should have done better at closing down Shaqiri at parts, but otherwise a decent performance.
Juan Carlos Garcia – 6: Not the worst performance ever, looked slightly more imposing than against France.
Brayan Beckeles – 4: Two carbon copy goals came down his side – should have got wise quicker.
Wilson Palacios – 5: Didn’t get into the swing of things in midfield.
Oscar Boniek Garcia – 5: Worked hard but wasn’t on top of his game.
Roger Espinoza – 6: Not quite as good as creative force for Honduras as against Ecuador.
Jorge Claros – 6: Worked hard all game, but to little avail.
Jerry Bengtson – 7: Had a number of good chances created largely by himself.
Carlo Costly – 6: A passenger throughout.
Jerry Palacios – 7: Along with Bengtson looked like one of the only Hondurans to change the game positively for them.
Marvin Chavez – 5: Didn’t affect things whatsoever.
Andy Najar – 6: No chance to really impose himself on the game.
Diego Benaglio – 7: Made a number of very smart stops, when called upon. Good game.
Stephan Lichtsteiner – 5: Pretty poor from Lichtsteiner, allowed too many Honduran balls into the box down his side.
Johann Djourou – 6: Was much improved from his game against France.
Fabian Schär – 7: Showed why he deserves a spot in the team in the absence of Von Bergen, imposing performance.
Ricardo Rodriguez – 7: Excellent again – is there anything this guy can’t do?
Gökhan Inler – 6: A bit wasteful at points but played some great balls as well. Positive performance.
Valon Behrami – 6: Finally a performance not riddled with negative comments. Solid from the Napoli man.
Xherdan Shaqiri – 9: A scintillating hat trick puts the Bayern midfielder right back in form – finally affecting games in a positive way for the Swiss.
Granit Xhaka – 6: Needs to step up a little bit more, but not a bad performance whatsoever.
Admir Mehmedi – 6: Despite being continually played out of position, Mehmedi made another good account of himself.
Josip Drmic – 8: Two assists and the best performance of this World Cup so far for Drmic.
Haris Seferovic – 7: Ran the channels well.
Michael Lang – 6: Only contribution was a tame shot wide.
Blerim Dzemaili – 6: No time to affect proceedings.
Man of the Match
Xherdan Shaqiri. After two negative displays against Ecuador and France, Shaqiri finally stepped up as the star the Swiss side know he can be. The Bayern Munich midfielder scored one of the tournament’s best goals so far with the first, a curler into the corner, and took his other goals well. Influenced the game positively throughout.