Switzerland limp into World Cup knockouts as Sommer shows his worth
NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia -- Three quick points from Switzerland 2-2 Costa Rica in Group E at the World Cup.
1. Switzerland make it through but must improve
Through behind only Brazil, and on paper things look pretty sweet for Switzerland. But in this performance against Costa Rica, a 2-2 draw, they looked limp and disengaged for long spells; not qualities which bode well for progression further into the tournament.
The Swiss go through to face Sweden in the next round, and of all the teams through so far, Vladimir Petkovic's men appear the kindest opponents. Certainly based on this performance, which will frighten few.
Switzerland's win over Serbia in the second game meant they only required a point to go through, but in the opening stages it looked like even that was a pipe dream. Costa Rica almost scored three times in the opening 20 minutes: two efforts from Daniel Colindres, one which clipped the underside of the bar, and a header by Celso Borges which forced a logic-defying save from Yann Sommer. Low to his right, the ball looked past Sommer before he not only somehow got a hand to it, but flicked it on to the post.
The Swiss didn't look threatening in the least, so of course they took the lead after half an hour. Blerim Dzemaili rammed in a finish after a good move, Breel Embolo knocking down a cross from the left, and suddenly the tension was gone. News of Brazil scoring against Serbia in Moscow helped their relaxation too; they could now afford to lose and still qualify.
After the break Costa Rica continued to attack with freedom, and were rewarded with their first goal of the tournament just before the hour mark. Kendall Waston, one of the players brought in for a little World Cup experience for this final game, thumped a header home, and their exuberant fans could delight in the fact they had at least found the net once. They celebrated like they'd won the World Cup, and it would have been particularly churlish to criticise them for it.
That goal, incidentally, meant every team has at least one strike to their name in Russia. Since the expansion to 32 teams in 1994, that's only happened twice before, in 1998 and 2014.
Then came the surreal last few minutes, Josip Drmic seemingly winning things before a Costa Rica penalty, initially given, was ruled out for offside, before an actual penalty from Bryan Ruiz ended in the ball going in off the previously excellent Sommer.
2. Sommer, a rock the Swiss build on
Sommer brought his guitar to Russia. It's one of the ways the Borussia Monchengladbach keeper unwinds away from the game, with Bruce Springsteen songs a particular favourite, apparently.
Presumably, most Switzerland players were not exactly queuing up to room with Sommer at this tournament, but they will at least have to thank him for keeping things respectable in this game.
Sommer made a couple of excellent saves, but the one from Borges was the stop of the tournament so far, and even with so many games remaining it will take a hell of an effort to top it. It was made especially impressive because of the complete lack of help from his colleagues: Borges was entirely unmarked, around 12 yards out and had time to both pick his spot and get plenty of power behind his header.
There wasn't a huge amount else the Costa Rica midfielder could have done: it was firm, down and towards the corner, but he hadn't reckoned on Sommer producing a remarkable dive to his right and flicking the ball on to the post. It was one of those efforts that you assumed was in from the moment it flew towards the goal, but somehow it stayed out, via the keepers's right paw.
Sommer is rarely a goalkeeper you see linked with big teams, despite being around for a few years now. He couldn't do much about any of the goals Switzerland have conceded at this World Cup -- Philippe Coutinho's brilliant curler for Brazil, and two headers when he wasn't helped out by his defence and of course the ludicrously unlucky own-goal here. If the Swiss are to go far in Russia, plenty will depend on their keeper.
3. Farewell, Costa Rica. Where were you earlier?
Farewell then, Costa Rica. The feelgood underdog story of 2014, when they made fools of England and Italy, reaching the quarterfinals where only penalties stopped them from beating Netherlands. This time they were out before they had a chance to do anything significant.
There has been fairly significant criticism of their performances back home, and before the game coach Oscar Ramirez defended his players against some of the more strident barbs from their media.
The frustration is that, before Switzerland opened the scoring here, Costa Rica displayed just what they're capable of, certainly a lot more than they showed in the opening two games.
You couldn't help but wonder whether that was more to do with team selection than anything else. In their first two games Ruiz was joined up front by Marco Urena and Johan Venegas, a trio that not only produced no goals but not much danger either.
This time, in this free swing of a game that carried little tangible weight for Costa Rica, Joel Campbell and Colindres came in and immediately they looked sparkier, more dynamic and more threatening. If this game was played 100 more times Colindres might have scored twice before Switzerland really got going, and Campbell -- still, remarkably, technically an Arsenal player -- went close too.
Perhaps it's unfair to criticise them for playing more freely in a game against Switzerland that didn't matter, than against Brazil in one that did, but you were still left with the sense that Costa Rica sold themselves short in this World Cup.