Three Points: Switzerland defeat Ecuador
Three thoughts on Switzerland's dramatic 2-1 win over Ecuador in their opening match of the 2014 World Cup in Brasilia.
1. Switzerland's reaction a sign of change?
Switzerland qualified for the 2014 World Cup by topping a relatively weak group, and the only one of their 10 matches in which they fell behind was a 4-4 draw at home to Iceland which represented two-thirds of the goals they conceded in the campaign -- in the other nine matches, they let in just two. The Swiss might have topped Group E in qualifying, but questions surely had to be asked going into the tournament about how the team would react if they went behind.- Long stadium lines greet Brasilia fans
The initial reaction wasn't bad: After youngster Enner Valencia headed Ecuador into the lead midway through the first half, his side struggled to press home their advantage. Although Ecuador got into the Swiss box with some regularity, the pattern was more of Swiss possession -- and the Europeans had more attempts to go with their greater time on the ball. They struggled to fashion anything really clear-cut, though, and that left a big question mark hanging over them at halftime.
In the second half the initial reaction looked promising; a corner was converted by substitute Admir Mehmedi just three minutes in, and the momentum suddenly seemed to be with Switzerland. But if anything, the game swung back the other way. By the 21st minute of the second half, Ecuador had managed more attempts on goal than they had done in the whole of the first.
The Swiss managed to dig in, though, and answer a few questions about their ability to go toe-to-toe in attack; a wrongly disallowed goal should have given them a 2-1 lead, and that score line was eventually reached right at the death thanks to Haris Seferovic's dramatic late winner. They're not accustomed to conceding first, but on Sunday, Switzerland proved to themselves that if they do, it's not necessarily the end of the world.
2. Ecuador's focus down the wings
It's no surprise to anyone who paid a modicum of attention during their qualifying campaign, but Switzerland didn't seem ready for it during the first half in Brasilia. Valencia's directness down the right and Jefferson Montero's trickiness on the left were entirely predictable, but Switzerland struggled to cope early on anyway.
Either the Swiss scouted woefully -- which seems hard to believe -- or, more likely, this was a demonstration of just how good that wide play from the South Americans can be. Ecuador have improved to some extent in friendlies since qualifying, but the reliance on their wide men is perhaps understandable.
Qualifying thanks to a fine home record, Ecuador were very average away from altitude, but the athleticism that allows them to thrive at home in Quito is also their most obvious strength when it comes to hitting teams down the flanks. Attacking at pace is also vital for a side who, when the Swiss did get on the ball during the first half, didn't look too solid in defence.
Ecuador's attack can be entertaining to watch, and produced yet another goal from a cross to put them up 1-0 (they scored more headers than anyone else in qualifying, and four of their eight at World Cup finals tournaments have been headers). But it is one-dimensional, and better-prepared -- or just better -- sides than Switzerland will surely be confident about shutting them out.
3. When is a dull game going to arrive?
After Italy's win over England -- featuring two traditionally slow-starting sides playing in the middle of summer in a rainforest -- proved not to be the damp squib some had expected, this seemed the next obvious choice to be the first dud game of this 2014 World Cup. Ecuador have been generally poor away from altitude, Switzerland have tended toward tight defence to get results, and yet even this encounter delivered entertainment.
After the Swiss equaliser in the second half, the game swung from end to end, with chances for both sides to claim the three points. Montero -- who has not always made the most of his prodigious talents -- and new boy Valencia both looked especially lively for Ecuador, while Xherdan Shaqiri floated dangerously behind the Swiss forwards. When it came, of course, that dramatic, late winner gave the points to Switzerland, but had Ecuador snatched it from an Antonio Valencia-created chance moments before, it wouldn't have seemed an unfair result, either.
This of course comes in the context of a tournament which has seen one of the highest goals-per-game averages so far in World Cup history, and in which we've yet to see a dull match. Even Mexico's 1-0 win over Cameroon on the second day -- one of only two clean sheets so far -- featured its share of drama and no little decent play (albeit not much of the latter from Cameroon).
There was another officiating mistake, it's true: Josip Drmic was denied a goal by an incorrect offside decision, and as such Switzerland should have been up 2-1 long before Seferovic -- who replaced Drmic when he came on -- gave them that late winner. But let's dwell on the positives for once. Perhaps the least promising fixture of the World Cup's early days produced yet more good play, drama and excitement -- and the fifth time in which the team conceding first have come back to win.