Switzerland has done it again and brought fame out of the mouths of supposedly bigger football nations. Once again, one of the superpowers of sport woke up one morning, ready to have breakfast with Fate, only to go downstairs to find that Switzerland has already mocked their food. At Euro 2020 this summer, France appeared to be nearing the next stage of the tournament and glorious thanks to a number of great performances from Paul Pogba. That was until Switzerland snatched away their ambitions with a last-minute goal to force extra time in the round of 16 before sending them home with a win on penalties. Most recently, Italy was brought to grief by Swiss hands. The newly crowned European champions wanted to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, but Switzerland held them with a 1-1 draw and defeated Bulgaria 4-0, which means that Switzerland took first place in the group and Italy can now reach Qatar via Qatar must go to the playoffs.
Perhaps Italy shouldn’t have been surprised: Switzerland has a recent history of holding the favorite to account. Shortly after Portugal became European champions in 2016, Switzerland beat them 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier. At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Argentina defeated Switzerland with a goal in added time, scored by Ángel Di Maria and provided by a Passion of the rarest brilliance from Leo Messi. And what is best known is that Switzerland defeated eventual champions Spain with a zero goal in the first game of the 2010 World Cup.
How do the Swiss do it? Well, for one thing, they have benefited greatly from immigration. At the last World Cup in Russia, eight of its 23 squad members were born outside Switzerland, more than any other team taking part in the tournament. The speed of this change is remarkable. Like Travis Waldron in the Huffington Post“When Switzerland qualified for the World Cup in 1994, every player in its squad was born in the country. When Switzerland next qualified in 2006, around half of the team consisted of first or second generation immigrants. ” In addition, they also had some of the best coaches of their era, including Ottmar Hitzfeld, who won the Champions League title twice in five seasons with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, and Roy Hodgson in his pomp. This has often led them to avoid losing, even boring, and they were partly responsible for one of the most ridiculous games in international football history – a 0-0 draw against Ukraine in the 2006 World Cup, with Ukraine at 3 0 on penalties, a match so stupid it could go on forever. But there seems to be something else to do with Switzerland, namely the performance of their goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
Sommer, who is 32 years old and plays in the Bundesliga for Borussia Mönchengladbach (or as it is called Gladbach), is not the captain of the Swiss national team. He is probably something more important: He is his soul. Sommer has a striking quality that he shares with his team: the more skillfully he is attacked, the more likely it is that he will prevail. Against France and Spain at Euro 2020, summer was at least great and at best otherworldly. Again and again he rushed to every corner of his target, moving with the same disregard for personal safety as a Hollywood stunt double. When his opponents seem unbeatable, Sommer becomes almost infallible, a bit like a metal that is reinforced by the action of intense heat. In contrast, Sommer is more likely to concede goals if the attempts against him are inferior or if he makes an unforced mistake, such as his blatant mistake against Bayern Munich in June 2020, when he left a margin in the path of Bayern striker Joshua under minimal pressure Zirkzee, the right one passed the ball into the empty net.
It is in fact fitting that in the last two years of Switzerland’s impressive form some of their players are either current or former Borussia Mönchengladbach players: Sommer in goal, Nico Elvedi in defense, Denis Zakaria and Granit Xhaka from Arsenal in midfield and Breel Embolo on the attack. Because Switzerland is, so to speak, the Gladbach of international football: a clever, technically adept team that probably won’t win the biggest trophies, but which often leads the difficult path to victory. Like Gladbach, they too have something lighthearted in that they are not overwhelmed by expectation, and they also have a folk hero – Embolo or let’s say Xherdan Shaqiri – who every now and then delivers a decisive goal.
This is Switzerland: largely unannounced, often inconspicuous, but an uncomfortable and sometimes fatal threat. It’s not clear how they’ll fare at next year’s World Cup; Yet, given their recent exploits, it is clear that whatever they do they are being watched with very watchful eyes.