Swiss smash and grab Spain
A valiant performance from Switzerland ensured Ottmar Hitzfeld's team claimed the shock of the World Cup so far against Spain.
By James Dall
Last Updated: 16/06/10 8:30pm
A valiant performance from Switzerland ensured Ottmar Hitzfeld's team claimed the shock of the World Cup so far against European champions Spain as Gelson Fernandes bundled home a winner in Durban.
The Spaniards dominated possession for the entire game but found themselves up against a resolute and disciplined Swiss side, who refused to lose shape versus their opponents' passing football.
And in the 52nd minute, Spain were left reeling when Fernandes pounced on uncertain defending, with a cut and bloodied Gerard Pique indicative of how Vicente del Bosque's side must have felt come the final whistle.
Such is Spain's frightening strength in depth, head coach Del Bosque had the luxury of leaving Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas on the substitutes' bench while Andres Iniesta passed a late fitness test and did make the starting XI. For Switzerland, key striker Alexander Frei did not start after arriving in South Africa with an ankle injury.
Premier League referee Howard Webb's whistle got the game under way, with Spain typically neat in the early exchanges, forcing their opponents to exhaustingly chase shadows. But, for all Spain's possession, goalkeeper Diego Benaglio was only called into action in the 10th minute, diving at the feet of David Villa to smother.
Then five minutes later, new Fulham defender Philippe Senderos, whose father is Spanish, had a heart in mouth moment when he clumsily tackled David Silva in the penalty area, felling the playmaker. But, to the Swiss stopper's relief, Webb waved away some half-hearted appeals for a spot-kick.
Spain continued to tease the disciplined Swiss, who were undone down the left on 17 minutes as Silva drove a shot at Benaglio before, on the other flank, Sergio Ramos collected a searching pass in an advanced position, but dragged his effort harmlessly wide of the goal.
Then, after Iniesta saw a deflected strike comfortably gathered by Benaglio, the Barcelona schemer executed a wonderful disguised pass that found Pique in the area. The centre-back, similar to his goal in the UEFA Champions League semi-final against Inter Milan, demonstrated nimble feet, only to see his finish expertly saved by the spread-eagled Benaglio.
Thereafter followed a tale of two free-kicks. First, former Tottenham player Reto Ziegler saw a skimming shot dealt with easily by Iker Casillas. Then, up the other end, Stephane Grichting went into the book for a foul on Iniesta, with the resulting free-kick slammed into the wall by David Villa.
In the 35th minute, Senderos' outing came to a premature end after he limped off with an injury, the centre-back replaced by Steve von Bergen. But the change altered little to the pattern of the game as a frustrated Spain continued to dominate but failed to land a knock-out punch, despite Villa's best efforts, as another non-event of a first period at this year's World Cup came to an end.
Spain picked up the second half where they left the first as they penned back Switzerland. Alonso saw a bending shot deflect wide for a corner, which was worked cleverly and resulted in Benaglio flicking away a looping header from Sergio Busquets.
However, in the 52nd minute, the unthinkable happened. A long ball down field caused havoc in the centre of Spain's defence as Eren Derdiyok won the flick-on. The European champions crumbled in the box, with bodies hitting the deck, to allow ex-Manchester City midfielder Fernandes to pounce and stab the ball home into an empty net.
Spain's response was to thrown on Torres and Jesus Navas for Busquets and Silva in the 62nd minute, switching to a 4-4-2, but not before Villa was expertly slipped in on goal by Xavi's reverse through ball, only to see his stab at goal blocked away bravely by the onrushing Benaglio.
And the changes almost had the desired effect after a nuisance caused by both Torres and Navas helped fashion an opportunity for Iniesta, whose bending shot did not curl enough as it whistled past the wrong side of the post, with Benaglio a helpless onlooker.
Spain's switch in system and personnel continued to pay dividends as Torres twice threatened to restore parity. Then on 70 minutes, Real Madrid star Alonso hammered a first-time effort goalwards, the effort cracking back off the bar and out, before Navas danced forward but struggled to generate power on his strike.
Just when it looked to be all Spain, Ottmar Hitzfeld's men came within a whisker of grabbing a second. Towering striker Derdiyok wriggled his way into the box before executing a low shot with the outside of his boot. But the ball bobbled back out off the foot of the post, with Spain almost twice stunned.
Navas proved to be Spain's best outlet, with the winger causing Ziegler untold problems as the left-back went into the book after being skinned far too often. And in the 79th minute, after Pedro was sent on for Iniesta, Navas' arrowed strike skimmed just past the far post.
But the final moments passed by without too much of a fright for Switzerland, who continued to defend stoutly and soak up pressure. And, despite five minutes of stoppage time played, Spain could not find the leveller they craved as the Swiss let outpour their triumphant emotion.