Uninspired Swiss meet expectations of knockout rounds at Euro 2016
Switzerland eventually exited Euro 2016 after an underwhelming campaign resulted in a round-of-16 loss to Poland on Saturday. Here's an assessment of their campaign in France and where the national team goes from here.
At a glance
Uninspiring is probably the fairest way to sum it up. They did what they were expected to do by reaching the final 16, they were technically and tactically sound, yet, apart from Xherdan Shaqiri's bicycle-kick goal against Poland, they lacked the spark needed to take them further. It was all rather predictable.
Shaqiri's equalising goal against Poland is something that Switzerland supporters will savour for a long time, even if it ultimately proved to be of little use. It was technically perfect: as the Polish defence cleared the ball to the edge of the area, Shaqiri moved into position, lunged himself into the air, met the ball about head height on the volley with his back to goal, sending his shot over his shoulder and in off the foot of the post.
It took considerable nerve to even try it given that Switzerland were eight minutes from going out of the tournament and Shaqiri had failed miserably with a similar effort in the group game against Romania. The goal was a tantalising glimpse of what Shaqiri can do when he is in the mood: Overall, his contribution to the tournament was somewhat low key and one of the main reasons Switzerland struggled to convert their possessions into chances.
The attack. A record of three goals in four games and not a single shot on target in the goalless draw against France sums up Switzerland's lack of bite.
Haris Seferovic had a frustrating time throughout, showing good positional sense and footwork to get into scoring positions, only to be foiled by a mixture of bad luck -- he smacked a shot against the crossbar against Poland -- poor finishing and good goalkeeping. He finished the tournament without a goal.
Nineteen-year-old Breel Embolo, who replaced Seferovic in the starting lineup against France and came on as a substitute in three other matches, was physically stronger but failed to get into scoring positions. Admir Mehmedi scored a cracking goal against Romania but otherwise too many moves broke down at his feet. Eren Derdiyok was given a try against Poland and squandered two good chances to give them an extra-time win.
It would be unfair to let Granit Xhaka's penalty shootout miss against Poland detract from his overall performance, which saw him voted man of the match in each of Switzerland's first two games. Xhaka's immaculate distribution allowed Switzerland to play their way out of defence and dominate possession in all of their games as coach Vladimir Petkovic had wanted.
The 23-year-old was always unflappable in possession and happy to receive passes even in dangerous positions with two or three opponents closing in. There were concerns about his form going into the tournament and also his temperament after his three red cards in the Bundesliga last season, but these proved unfounded and he ensured that the team were unaffected by the absence of stalwart Gokhan Inler, left out because of a lack of playing time in club football.
Switzerland need to make sure they get the most out of Shaqiri's creative talents. He spent a lot of time chasing back and tackling and, while his work rate and unselfishness were impressive, it seemed that his energy could be channeled more positively. Switzerland's best spell of the tournament, the second half and extra time of the match against Poland, coincided with his best performance.
They might also want to emulate Juventus and use Stephan Lichtsteiner as a wing-back rather than a right-back. Too many opposition attacks came down the Swiss right when he was caught up field, and Michael Lang has showed that he would make a perfectly competent right-back.
There is also the question of whether they could get more use out of Xhaka's passing in attack. Most of his work was done in Switzerland's half, but he showed on a few occasions, that he can produce killer passes when he gets forward.
Brian Homewood writes for Reuters news agency and World Soccer magazine. Twitter: @brianhomewood.