World Cup Group E: It doesn't get easier for Serbia or Switzerland
Group E. It stands for…ecstasy, elation and emotion. These two European sides are looking to secure safe passage to the round of 16 in their second games of the tournament.
Serbia made their return to the World Cup after failing to qualify for the 2014 edition. Given the highly politically charged past the nation has had, it's no wonder they’ve competed under a few different monikers. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia finished fourth in 1930, whilst SFR Yugoslavia enjoyed another fourth-placed finish in 1962. Yet they’ve made little ground since. Seemingly as their country's boundaries have changed, getting smaller, so has their fortunes in world football.
Switzerland has no major trophies to their name, nor particularly memorable recent runs in international football. Older fans Rossocrociati fans and football nerds alike can tell you their notable tournament in 1954 when they hosted it. They made history in their losing effort against Austria, as they produced a scintillating 7-5 exhibition, which became and still is the highest scoring World Cup finals match.
In addition to that, they hold the record for least amount of goals conceded in a World Cup. In 2006 they didn’t concede in regulation time. They did, however, succumb to a defeat on penalties in the round of 16.
Serbia got the ball rolling before Switzerland with their 1-0 win against Costa Rica. Whilst the game wasn’t played at a million miles at the minute, the Eagles controlled the Central-Americans and weathered all of their attacks. Captain Kolarov ensured the win with his free-kick strike.
Nobody parties like the Brazilians, it’s a well-documented fact. Michael Palin said it one time. In the case of last week’s game, the Zurich boys crashed the party. Ringleader Steven Zuber decided to put his own music on. The Swiss did have to defend for much of the game, but the Hoffenheim-based head was enough to earn them a point as it ended 1-1.
The two nations enjoy good relationships with many sharing cultural ties and heritage. There’s no better gauge of that than the two nations football sides with players like Granit Xhaka, Blerim Dzemaili, and Xherdan Shaqiri who all play for Switzerland yet have ties to Serbia and/or Kosovan roots. On the other side, Milos Veljkovic and Aleksandar Prijovic who turn out for Serbia were both born in Switzerland. That said, this will be the first-ever meeting between the two sides.
FIFA Ranking: 34th
Despite getting a better result than their opponents, they will still enter as the underdogs here. They are ranked quite a bit lower than their adversaries. Whilst they can be buoyant about their win, it must not distract from the job at hand.
Mladen Krstajic won’t want to change terribly much for the next game. They can play without the ball, and that suits them. They can get forward in waves and with taking their chances when they come. The problem is that they know Switzerland drew with Brazil and they statistically need the points.
Adem Ljajic didn’t have a great game for the Serbs; one idea might be to start either Filip Kostic or Andrija Zivkovic instead and not allow them to go forward quite as much, pulling the midfielders back a little. Should they need a goal late on they can call on Prijovic or Luka Jovic, who scored in excess of 30 goals between them last season in Greece and Germany respectively.
FIFA Ranking: 6th
The Swiss will be able to enter the game knowing they’ve already faced the most difficult task, and come out with something. What they will have to do though, is lead from the front foot. Their defensive nature was evident and quite negative in their first game, having just six shots in total against Brazil. Which is befitting of neither a World Cup nor a team ranked sixth in the world.
Petkovic just allowed Shaqiri, Dzemaili, and Zuber to get forward more often and support Haris Seferovic throughout the whole game. It’s that attacking spirit of 1954 they need to emulate to score big and take pole position in this group. Defending against Brazil is okay, but they need to create and score in this game.
Having watched both teams prior games, it’s hard to envisage an electric start. It’s the Swiss which will most likely take their chances first and strike before halftime. It’s at that point we will see the true colours of this Serbian side.
Given their successes against Brazil though, it’s hard to see the Swiss not going for it and being fairly clinical against an untested Serbian side. The current group leaders could mount a fight back, but should ultimately be outclassed. 3-1 to Switzerland, making it a very interesting final match day in Group E.