How Switzerland stunned the World Champions

How Switzerland stunned the World Champions

By Sam Feierabend

The last-16 game between Switzerland and France in Bucharest provided arguably the game of the tournament so far, whilst also serving up one of the biggest shocks in Euros history. France came into the game after topping the ‘group of death’ ahead of Portugal, Germany and Hungary, but this group had bigger ambitions: to build on their World Cup victory in 2018 and dominate international football in the way that Spain did in the early 2010s.

Switzerland are major tournament mainstays, having not missed qualification for a major finals since EURO 2012 and qualified out of their group in all of those tournaments. They qualified out of group A as one of the best third-placed finishers on 4 points from a draw against Wales and a 3-1 victory over Turkey, and came to the Romanian capital looking to win a knockout game at a major tournament for the first time in their history.

Didier Deschamps matched Switzerland man for man
Vladimir Petkovic stuck to his average starting formation

When the line ups were announced, heads were turned at Didier Deschamps decision to match-up Switzerland’s 3-4-1-2 formation, and start Adrien Rabiot in an unfamiliar left wing-back role.

When they were out of possession, Switzerland congested into a 5-2-3, forcing any French attack out wide, allowing play to shift from side to side and opening up spaces to exploit on the counter. This is where France were opened up for the first goal, with too many players caught outside the Swiss defensive block, Steven Zuber had time to advance to the left edge of the box and loft the ball in for Haris Seferovic to ghost in and head the ball home.

On the attack, Switzerland almost had two left wing-backs, as Ricardo Rodriguez often found himself in an advanced position with Granit Xhaka sitting to cover his left centre back role. This allowed the defender to offer overlapping runs to Zuber, and pull Pavard away, shifting play once again to open central positions.

Half time saw France pull the trigger on tactical change. Deschamps withdrew Clement Lenglet for Kingsley Coman, opting for a traditional 4-4-2 formation. Switzerland stayed rigid in tactics, again paying off for the penalty that they won with the extra option out wide leading Pavard to make a desperate lunge to concede the foul. After the penalty was saved, Coman and Griezmann shifted infield to work closely with Benzema and Mbappe, and the two goals that were scored quickly came from a more central attack that unsettled Switzerland having to defend face to face rather than facing crosses coming into the box.

France finished with a classic 4-4-2 which contributed to their downfall
Switzerland had to revert to 4-4-2 after French dominance

Once France led 3-1, Switzerland themselves switched to a 4-4-2 allowing them to match Les Bleus man-for-man. Their late goals came from exploiting the space in between the French central and wide midfielders to advance forward and then land the killer blow. Both of Seferovic’s goals in the game came from perfectly timed late runs into the box where he could not be marked by the taller centre backs. An equaliser nearly came earlier than it actually did with space on the left this time causing problems for France.

When the equaliser finally arrived, it was build off of compact Swiss pressing. Winning the ball back in midfield and immediately breaking allowed a 6 on 5 attack, with miscommunication between Kimpembe and Rabiot both tracking one man left acres of space central to goal; Gavranovic made no mistake to take the game to an unlikely extra time.

Extra time saw the tiring Swiss sit back and allow Gavranovic’s fresher legs to try and muster a chance. France seemingly were happy to knuckle down and draw the game out to penalties where ultimately they would meet their demise. As I discussed in R3trospect’s prediction podcast , Switzerland were set out to be compact and well-drilled. Despite not having the best group stage, their style certainly paid off in this game.

This game is arguably the best night in Swiss football history, defying the odds and creating a night of celebration which has been long overdue for the ‘nearly men’ of international football. They progress to face Spain in St. Petersburg in what now can be considered a winnable game, given how momentum can take you far in a tournament, as proved with Wales in EURO 2016.