It was always going to be fascinating when Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile faced Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Swiss outfit. One of the most attacking sides in the competition versus the brilliantly organised conquerers of Spain. The difference in outlook between the two teams was only exarcebated when Switzerland went down to ten men in the first half. What followed was a spirited effort by the Chileans to break down the two walls of four that ended in a deserved 1-0 triumph. Success for Chile? Well, they may rue their missed opportunities – defeat against Spain could see them going home despite a six point haul.
The initial shapes of the sides were as outlined below:
Switzerland retain shape with 10 men
The sending off of Valon Behrami (11) saw Tranquillo Barnetta come on to replace him on the right-wing and captain Alexander Frei (9) withdrawn. Defensively, this meant there was very little change in shape as the Swiss retained their two banks of four with Blaise Nkufo ploughing a lone furrow up front. As a result, the Chileans continued to see more of the ball but also continued to face the same problems in breaking the Swiss down.
An example of the problems facing Chile:
Switzerland often relied on their most advanced players to press the ball while the deeper midfielders Inler and Huggel sat deep and concentrated on protecting the back four. The above image shows a back five in place and emphasises that, whilst largely rigid in formation, Hitzfeld’s side tracked their runners and dealt well with the problems Chile set them in committing so many men forward.
Mark Gonzalez’s winner finally saw Chile make the breakthrough after Esteban Paredes had broken through the high Swiss line. Jorge Valdivia’s introduction at half-time made a difference with his creativity on the ball and there was not enough pressure on him when he was allowed to pick out Paredes. Indeed, it was the pressing of the Chileans that caught the eye throughout..
One of the remarkable features of this game, even to the casual observer, was the regularity with which Chile were able to dispossess the Switzerland defenders. International football, and top level football in general, usually features the central defenders stroking the ball around with time and space as the opposition do not waste energy harrying quality players so high up the field. This Chile side dispossessed the Swiss defence on numerous occassions through speed and effort, exposing the technical deficiencies in their opponents. Their starting positions contributed to this as Chile pressed higher and higher up the field:
The tactical positions in the diagram above are for the period after the 74th minute goal and indicate Chile’s ongoing commitment to attack even having secured the lead. The BBC commentators appeared unconvinced by the state of the game. Mark Bright criticised the Chileans for continuing to attack recklessly and nearly had his concerns justified when Eren Derdiyok wasted a chance for Switzerland to equalise late on. However, perhaps Chile just had a better grasp of the fact that this was their chance to secure qualification. A 1-0 result has left them needing a point against Spain and, should Switzerland defeat Honduras, facing elimination should they not achieve it. There can be no denying they went for it against the ten men:
And again in the 92nd minute:
As the images above indicate, nobody could accuse Chile of not going all out to improve their goal difference. Where they are culpable is in wasting these opportunities. Paredes probably spurned the best of them but Gonzalez also blew opportunities, as he had against Honduras, frequently shooting when a pass could have put a team-mate clean through.
A 1-0 win for Chile puts them in the box seat as it stands – Jim Beglin even foolishly insinuated they may be in a position to rest players against Spain – but they are extremely vulnerable. Nobody would be surprised if Spain beat them and if Switzerland find a way past Honduras then La Roja will be going home. It is likely that, whatever happens in the final game, many would look back at their failure to punish Switzerland in this encounter as the key. Conversely, the Swiss can be proud that they did not wilt in the face of adversity and may well come to look back on this result as that strangest of things: a satisfactory defeat.