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Spain stunned by Switzerland 1-0 in biggest shock of World Cup so far

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diego_benaglio.jpgPrior to today, Switzerland had never won any of their 18 international matches against Spain, and surely that wasn't going to change tonight, right? Especially now that Spain have shed the tag of chokers. And they did nearly everything right on their part, too. They had nearly three quarters of the possession, a total of 25 shots and 12 corners. But, alas, football's a cruel, cruel sport. For all their attacking brilliance, the Swiss matched them with an equally wonderful defensive performance, and then struck where it hurts most.

Spain started with David Villa alone up front, and a five man midfield consisting of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernadez, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Xabi Alonso. As expected, Spain controlled the early exchanges with ease but never seemed too intent on pegging Switzerland back. The first chance only came in the 15th minute, when David Silva broke down the left and rifled in a tame shot straight at the Swiss goalkeeper, Diego Benaglio. It seemed as if the Swiss were happy to keep their defence narrow, with Spain finding acres of space out wide. However, whenever they cut infield the cross failed to find its target or the shot failed to trouble Benaglio much.

The best chance of the first half fell to Gerard Pique, when he beautifully controlled a through ball from Andres Iniesta inside the penalty area, beat his marker with an exquisite dummy but Benaglio spread himself well and managed to block the Barcelona defender's shot with his left foot. Switzerland were just about hanging on, and it seemed inevitable that Spain would score sooner rather than later.

The Swiss already had their backs against the wall when defender Philippe Senderos had to be substituted in the 35th minute, after sustaining an injury to his right foot crashing into his own teammate. The anguish on the new Fulham centre-back's face probably means his participation in the rest of the World Cup is under serious doubt.

Spain were patiently playing their passing game, waiting for the Swiss defence to lose concentration, and they nearly struck just at the stroke of half time. David Villa had his first real chance of the World Cup, when a quick counter-attack saw Spain rushing towards the Swiss goal. Followed closely by Steve von Bergen, Villa dragged the ball back at the left edge of the Swiss 6-yard box and tried to chip Benaglio, but his effort was well wide. And thus ended a frustrating first half for the European Champions, who had nearly 70% of possession, but no goals to show for it.

The Spaniards started the second half just as they ended the first, enjoying huge amounts of space along the touchlines but struggling to find their target with their crosses. And all of a sudden, the Swiss broke through the middle of the Spanish defence, which seemed to have switched off given the lack of involvement. Eren Derdiyok ran into the penalty area with Gerard Pique breathing down his neck and Iker Casillas charging forward. The striker managed to drag the ball wide of Casillas, who hacked him down, and the ball ricocheted off Derdiyok and Pique, before being tapped in by the onrushing Gelson Fernandes just before Casillas could get back in time.

Almost immediately after, David Villa broke through on goal and just as it seemed that he'd bring his side back on level terms, Benaglio bravely dived at his feet and another Spanish opportunity came to nought. Benaglio had been brilliant the entire day, marshalling his defence and making some important saves and interceptions.

Finding himself in desperate need of some more attacking flair, Spain boss Vincent del Bosque brought on Fernando Torres and Jesus Navas for David Silva and Sergio Busquets after an hour had passed. And only a few minutes later, they were nearly level when Iniesta curled a delightful 20 yard effort inches wide. That was too be his last real involvement in the game, though, as he came off injured to be replaced by Barcelona teammate Pedro.

Lady Luck just wasn't with Spain, it seemed. In the 70th minute Spain won a corner which was played out to Xabi Alonso outside the penalty area. The Real Madrid midfielder smashed in a thunderous shot from 25 yards, only for it to crash against the inside of the crossbar. The disbelief on the Spanish players faces said it all

Just a few minutes later Switzerland nearly scored again. After winning the possession near the centre circle Derdiyok was again released into the Spanish penalty area, where he beat Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol and shot past Casillas with the outside of his boot, only to hit the upright.

Fernando Torres, who started on the bench, clearly lacked match fitness after missing over two months of action through injury. Many a times he found himself in the thick of things, only to disappoint. First he was forced to cut back in the 68th minute after being played through the middle, and shot over the bar. Later, David Villa released him following some amazing chest control. Torres had a clear path on goal, but his first touch was horrible and the ball ran out of play.

Spain rushed on late in the game, creating a flurry of half chances from the flanks as the Swiss tried to play down the clock. But the final pass from the European champions was never good enough. In the end, Switzerland managed to hold on. They only hit the target twice, to their more illustrious opponents' nine, but they made it count while Benaglio was comfortable with nearly anything that came his way. The stats may say that Spain deserved to win, but the Swiss were extremely well disciplined and their strategy worked probably better than they expected it to.

Vincent del Bosque's selection may come under scrutiny. Whether the side needed both Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso in midfield while facing a lackluster Swiss attack is questionable. And so is his decision not to even introduce Cesc Fabregas off the bench, while still favouring Jesus Navas to replace David Silva when Spain had failed miserably to produce any worthwhile chance from the flanks. Fabregas' range of passing could have been the key to opening up a stubborn Swiss defence.

And also, crucially, Spain don't seem to have a Plan B. The entire match they played the same passing game, more often than not trying to cut in from the flanks or trying to pass their way through the Swiss defensive wall, even though it never produced any end product. Their next tie is against Honduras on June 21, and it's vital that Del Bosque finds the perfect balance in the side by then.

As for Switzerland, 61-year old coach Ottmar Hitzfeld would be over the moon with the way his side performed. Only USA have beaten Spain in over two years, and the morale in the dressing room would be sky high. However, the former Bayern Munich manager must ensure complacency doesn't set it. Philippe Senderos's injury would normally have been a concern, but Steve von Bergen did brilliantly whenever required. Their next tie is against Chile, on June 21, and a draw in that match would probably see them through to the Round of 16. Chile showed plenty of attacking endeavour against Honduras earlier today, but if Switzerland defend as resolutely as they did tonight they should be able to handle anything that the South Americans can throw at them.

An exciting dynamic that may develop, however, is if Chile manage to beat the Swiss. If Spain were to win their remaining two games, and Switzerland defeat Honduras in their last match, we could have a three-way tie at the top of the table on 6 points, bringing into account goal difference. It's all happening in Group H!

Man of the Match
Diego Benaglio was inspired in the Swiss goal, and made two important saves when Pique and David Villa were through on goal.

Teams:

Spain (4-5-1): Casillas; Ramos, Puyol, Pique, Capdevilla; Busquets (Navas 62'), Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta (Pedro 75'), Silva (Torres 62'); Villa

Switzerland (4-4-2): Benaglio; Grichting, Senderos (Von Bergen 35'), Ziegler, Lichsteiner; Huggel, Inler, Fernandes, Barnetta (Eggiman 89'); N'Kufo, Derdiyok (Yakin 78')

Final Score: Spain 0-1 Switzerland (Fernandes 52')

Check out the Points Table

Also Read: Chile 1 - 0 Honduras (Match Report)

File Photograph Copyright: Reto Stauffer

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