RUSSIA, July 4: Another World Cup knockout match for Switzerland, another defeat.
After meekly falling to a 1-0 defeat by unfancied Sweden, it’s now 64 years since Switzerland scored in a knockout match at soccer’s premier tournament.
The Swiss have not reached the World Cup quarterfinals since hosting the 1954 tournament and they have gone out in the round of 16 in four of their last five World Cup appearances — without scoring a single goal.
The world’s No. 6-ranked team played weighed down by that history of futility.
The gritty Swiss team that battled back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Brazil in the group stage, the emotionally charged team that registered the first come-from-behind win of this World Cup in its next match when it beat Serbia 2-1 didn’t show up in St. Petersburg.
It was as if the smothering Sweden defense extinguished the desire and passion that drove Switzerland through the group stage in Russia.
“There was something missing in that match,” Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said. “Over the past matches that I’ve seen with the Swedish team, all the opponents have had a hard time developing those emotions when they were on the pitch against them.”
Switzerland could consider itself unlucky to be eliminated by a deflected shot from Emil Forsberg, but it was also a victim of its own overcautious play — a failure to seize control of a match that their lofty ranking suggested they should have won easily. Sweden is ranked 24.
“If you want to achieve something you have to be here on these important games and try to win these games,” Xherdan Shaqiri said. “We had today good chances to go through and we didn’t take the chance.”
It’s not the first time.
This Switzerland team was made up largely of the same players who lost in the round of 16 to Argentina at the 2014 World Cup, and to Poland in the same stage at the 2016 European Championship.
Add to those losses round of 16 defeats at the World Cups in 1994, 2006 — also without scoring — and it starts to look like the Swiss simply can’t cope with the pressure of winner-takes-all matches.
“It’s a few times that it’s happened that we go out,” striker Josip Drmic said. “We had a good opportunity to go to the next level, but we don’t do it.”
Sweden stuck to its tested game plan of sitting back and trying to hit their opponent on the break. Switzerland had more possession, but couldn’t find a spark of inspiration to unlock the Swedish defense.
“It was not beautiful football today from them,” Shaqiri said. “But they created … chances from counterattack and of course not always beautiful football wins games.”
Now Shaqiri and the rest of the Switzerland team will have to go home and analyze how another round of 16 match got away from them and maybe next time end its depressing World Cup knockout curse.
“I hope we can learn,” said Shaqiri, who would still be only 31 and at his fourth World Cup in Qatar next time. “We can go through.” AP