Switzerland weathered the storm of an all-action Serbia to beat them 3-2 and book their spot in the last 16 of the World Cup.
With Cameroon finding a remarkable late winner against Brazil elsewhere in Group G, a Switzerland victory proved crucial in the end when it came to securing their second place finish.
As has been the case with most fixtures in matchday three, the game was wide open from the off with both teams knowing they had a very real chance of advancing. Breel Embolo came close mere minutes into the game, before Serbia went down the other end and almost scored themselves from a corner.
Serbia began to dominate as proceedings calmed down somewhat, trying to stretch the play and hit their two strikers. Switzerland were well poised to break beyond the wing backs, though, and did exactly that to pull ahead after 20 minutes. Ricardo Rodriguez fired a ball into the box, which Djibril Sow scooped up and laid into the path of Xherdan Shaqiri who rattled it home.
Dragan Stojkovic’s side didn’t flinch, though, and pulled back level just six minutes later when Aleksandar Mitrovic almost burst the net with a tremendous header from Dusan Tadic’s cross.
Shaqiri soon went from hero to zero. His sloppy pass back towards his own goal saw Serbia pounce. Tadic picked up the loose ball and slipped through to Dusan Vlahovic who, moving away from the goal, reversed a shot back across Gregor Kobel and into the far corner for 2-1.
Of course, though, three goals before half-time simply weren’t enough. Much like Serbia, Switzerland didn’t panic, and Embolo was alert to arrive at the back post and smash in their second to send the game into the break level.
The frantic nature of the game inevitably bled into the second half. A long ball from Switzerland turned into a smart passage of play on the edge of the box, where Remo Freuler finished off tremendously to give his side the lead once again.
A goal early on in the second half suited Switzerland as the game drew on, with Serbia suddenly looking more frantic and less likely to hurt Murat Yakin’s side. Serbia were unable to get Kostic and Tadic on the ball as regularly as they did in the first half, which hurt them significantly.
That showed in rather embarrassing amounts when Mitrovic hurled himself to the floor in search of a penalty after 65 minutes, which of course didn’t fool the referee. Unfortunately, the incident riled up the Serbian bench, who flooded onto the pitch and caused a pause in play – of a game they were chasing.
Taking off Vlahovic so soon into the game appeared to be Serbia’s undoing. Their scoring threat evaporated and as the minutes ticked down, the prospect of them finding two goals to change the landscape of Group G looked increasingly unlikely.
Switzerland began to resemble their more usual, composed selves when seeing out the game. Tensions boiled over again in injury time as Serbia couldn’t get close to finding an equaliser, showing their frustration at being eliminated from the World Cup.
GK: Vanja Milinkovic-Savic – 4/10 – Didn’t really get near any of Switzerland’s three strikes. Not a confidence-inspiring display.
CB: Nikola Milenkovic – 5/10 – Really should’ve done better with a headed chance after just five minutes.
CB: Milos Veljkovic – 3/10 – Positionally all over the show. Had no idea how to dominate his own penalty area.
CB: Strahinja Pavlovic – 3/10 – Like Serbia’s defence all tournament long, he didn’t cover himself in glory.
RWB: Andrija Zivkovic – 5/10 – With Kostic doing the heavy lifting, Zivkovic’s evening was a lot less exciting.
CM: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – 4/10 – Not a great audition for clubs watching on perhaps wanting to sign him.
CM: Sasa Lukic – 5/10 – With the game won in transitions, Lukic made very little impact.
LWB: Filip Kostic – 6/10 – Made things happen whenever he was given the ball out wide; a wonder why Serbia didn’t find him more often.
AM: Dusan Tadic – 8/10 – Plenty of room to float into and get creative with, which caused Switzerland problems. Such a shame they weren’t able to get the ball to him after the break.
ST: Aleksandar Mitrovic – 8/10 – Bullet header to level proceedings. The guy is a menace inside the penalty area.
ST: Dusan Vlahovic – 7/10 – Showed his class and exactly why he needs to start with his movement and his goal. Proper poacher.
Nemanja Gudelj – 5/10
Luka Jovic – 5/10 – Taking off Vlahovic to bring on Jovic made life far too easy for Switzerland’s defence.
Nemanja Maksimovic – 6/10
Filip Duricic – N/A
Nemanja Radonjic – N/A
Dragan Stojkovic – 5/10 – Credit to Stojkovic and his side for going for it, but it was all a bit too little, too late. That, and they really need to learn how to defend.
GK: Gregor Kobel – 6/10 – Had no chance of saving either of Serbia’s two strikes.
RB: Silvan Widmer – 5/10 – Got cooked by Kostic throughout the first half. But as Serbia waned in influence, he managed to steal back some ground.
CB: Manuel Akanji – 6/10 – Left in the dust by Mitrovic when it mattered. Crucially improved after the break, which helped out his colleagues a lot.
CB: Fabian Schar – 4/10 – Thrust into the staring lineup and struggled immensely. Beaten for pace, positioning and strength when it mattered. Would’ve been thankful that Serbia took off Vlahovic.
LB: Ricardo Rodriguez – 6/10 – Wasn’t afraid to get forward and start attacks. Had varying levels of success.
DM: Remo Freuler – 6/10 – Tried his best to stop the enslaught that was Serbia’s counter attacks. ‘Tried’ being the key word. Popped up at the start of the second half to score, though, so is forgiven.
DM: Granit Xhaka – 5/10 – A shame he couldn’t get himself on the ball and dominate play more often, like he has done for Arsenal so often this season. Disappointing.
RW: Xherdan Shaqiri – 7/10 – Given far too much space in the box, but took his finish beautifully.
AM: Djibril Sow – 6/10 – Great composure to pick out Shaqiri for the opener, rather than taking on the shot himself. A promising performance.
LW: Ruben Vargas – 6/10 – Struggled in the first half, but began to take up more interesting positions in the second.
ST: Breel Embolo – 8/10 – On a night where all the eyes were on Serbia’s front two, Embolo gave a solid account of himself. Apart from when he poked a ball over from point-blank around the hour mark.
Denis Zakaria – 6/10
Edimilson Fernandes – 6/10
Christian Fassnacht – N/A
Noah Okafor – N/A
Murat Yakin – 7/10 – Whatever he said to his side at half-time clearly worked. Not a vintage Switzerland performance, but with a few key names missing, his side showed grit and – crucially – knew how to score.
Player of the match – Breel Embolo (Switzerland)