Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Nati almost there...

I've written articles in this blog about my past trips to watch FC Lausanne Sport play (see "Following FC Lausanne-Sport to the Final" and "Allez Lausanne!"), both of which resulted in me witnessing a disastrous result for the team I was there to support.

Well, this time I made the step up to watching the national team, nicknamed the "Nati", as they battled for qualification to the World Cup tournament in 2014. The match saw Switzerland playing host to Iceland in Qualifying Group E. The Swiss were flying high in their table and at the time had the best defence in international football in 2013. Pretty impressive.

I travelled with friends to Bern to watch the match, and after a nice pizza and a couple of beers, we took our seats to watch the match unfold. Switzerland were comfortably top of their group and favourites to defeat Iceland, who trailed the Swiss by 5 points in the group and had already lost to the Nati in the reverse fixture back in October 2012.

However, things didn't go exactly according to plan.

The expectant crowd had barely settled into their seats after the national anthems when Jóhann Gudmundsson struck first blood for Iceland to stun the Swiss crowd into disbelieving silence whilst the travelling Icelandic contingent were roared into life.

The lead lasted all of 12 minutes, as Stephan Lichtsteiner equalized for the Nati, and the match swung back in the hosts' favour as Fabian Schär and a second goal from Lichtsteiner made it 3-1 to Switzerland at the interval. They were playing well with plenty of style, swagger and intent, and fully deserved their lead at this stage.

A beer at half time was happily consumed amid a buoyant Swiss crowd, with their team on course for victory and another 3 points to cement their lead in the group.

Less than 10 minutes after the restart, Blerim Dzemaili made it 4-1 to Switzerland from the penalty spot, and the Swiss were in dreamland.

Indeed it seemed that some of the Swiss players were still dreaming as only moments later a goal from Kolbeinn Sigthórsson reduced the deficit to 4-2, and give the visitors a glimmer of hope.

Still, at 4-2 up you would expect Switzerland to hold on for the win. Then again, football is a funny old game.

Instead of tightening up the defence and killing off the game, the Swiss players suddenly forgot how to play. It looked like they were doing a post-match warm down exercise as they could barely keep hold of the ball and were hopeless going forwards. Iceland, buoyed on by Sigthórsson's goal and their vociferous supporters, pressed the Swiss and relentlessly surged forward, hitting their opponents with some fluid attacking displays.

Their pressure was rewarded as Gudmundsson scored his second of the night with a little over 20 minutes left to play, and suddenly the full comeback seemed on.

Could the unthinkable happen? Could Switzerland really throw away a 4-1 lead?

Yes. Yes they could. And they did, as the man of the moment Gudmundsson finished off his hat trick in style, smashing in the equaliser in added time.

The final whistle blew and it ended 4-4, as Iceland deservedly took home a point.

It was practically the stereotypical game of two halves, with Switzerland dominating the first half and Iceland running the second.

As it turns out, second placed Albania lost their game against Slovenia, so gaining 1 point from this match meant Switzerland maintained their 4 point lead in Group E, but it was undoubtedly 2 points dropped.

Full credit to Iceland for taking the game to their opponents, but it was worrying to see the Swiss switching off for half an hour or so where they really struggled. They simply got complacent and practically treated the game as though it was over, even when Iceland scored their third goal. If they do that against other teams, particularly the likes of Spain, Brazil and Germany, then they would end up being completely slaughtered.

All in all, I actually quite enjoyed this experience, which gave me a far better impression of Swiss football than the last two debacles I witnessed.

It was a match full of action and goals with plenty of attractive football to keep the crowd entertained. Obviously I supported the Swiss so was naturally very disappointed at the end result, but I can imagine this would have been a cracking game to watch as a neutral.

I saw signs of how Switzerland play, and - barring the disastrous second half - think they might be able to surprise one or two teams at the World Cup next year (provided they seal qualification in the upcoming matches, of course).

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