Switzerland are out of the World Cup after a narrow 1-0 defeat to Sweden in St Petersburg. Vladimir Petkovic’s side have now lost seven knockout games in a row at the tournament, ossifying their reputation as a team that chokes under pressure.
Russia represented the A-Team's best chance to qualify for the quarter-finals since 1954, and the question is: Where did they go wrong?
Granit Xhaka must take a portion of the blame. A magnificent goal against Serbia in the group stage represents the 25-year-old at his best – clinical, powerful and decisive. His performance against Sweden, however, displayed a side that is all too familiar, with a taste for card-inducing challenges and a chronic lack of bravery in possession.
When it comes to aimless sideways balls, the Arsenal midfielder is peerless. When it comes to slinking away from a competition when the going gets tough, he is without competitors too.
Xhaka, like the virtually anonymous Xherdan Shaqiri, showed a diabolical lack of imagination against Sweden's trenchant 4-4-2, and his country paid for it.
Xhaka’s cause might have been helped, however, if Switzerland could call upon a decent option in the striking positions. Josip Drmic was given the nod in St Petersburg, with the hope being that his pace and mobility could upset a sluggish Swedish backline.
After another dominant performance from Andreas Granqvist and Victor Lindelof, however, Petkovic turned to a certain Haris Seferovic.
The best since Stephane Chapuisat?
At one point, Seferovic was anointed as the most promising Swiss striker since Stephane Chapuisat. The Benfica man’s form has been so poor, however, that he was even booed by his own fans during the recent qualifying campaign.
Seferovic is adept at holding up the play occasionally, but he offers precious little else to a midfield that is crying out for a decent option up front.
Breel Embolo looked promising when he eventually joined proceedings in the second half, and Petkovic may rue not choosing to start with the bustling Schalke youngster in this game.
Manuel Akanji has been hyped profusely at Borussia Dortmund, and with good reason. The former Basel man possesses all the ingredients to be a top level defender; composed, technically sound, as well as being an intelligent tackler.
On Tuesday, however, he showed all of his Inexperience to hook a leg towards Emil Forsberg’s tame goal-bound shot. The resulting deflection sent the ball crashing past Yann Sommer, providing the goal that won the contest.
Akanji is young enough to grow from the experience, but several of the defenders alongside him are not. For Stephan Lichtsteiner, Valon Behrami and Johan Djourou, this is surely the end of the road.
An organised opponent
The chief reason for Switzerland’s demise, however, was the brilliance and organisation of their opponents. Sweden’s triumph was a collective one at the Krestovsky Arena, where eleven players of varying reputations subjugated themselves to a rigidly defensive gameplan.
Throughout the entire fixture, each player stuck assiduously to their responsibilities, waiting for a slip-up or slice of good fortune. When it arrived, they defended the lead with heroic devotion. Switzerland, try as they might, were simply unable to break them down.
Switzerland depart Russia knowing that this was a chance that might never come again. It is unlikely that bigger footballing nations such as Argentina and Germany will collapse similarly in the future. As they fly home, Petkovic and his players will be haunted by the possibility of what could – and perhaps should – have been.
Where do you think Switzerland went wrong? Let us know below!