As is their well-balanced way, the Swiss were modestly confident before last night’s game against England and are mildly disappointed this morning to have lost.
Centre-half Steve von Bergen described losing the first qualifier as “annoying but hardly a reason for panic. If we had no points after seven games, instead of just the first one, then there would be something to worry about. I am no mathematician but I know that we can still envisage finishing top of the group.”
The ever garrulous Von Bergen went on to say that “we could find 15 excuses and a thousand reasons for the result. But, to me, our only failing was to play too slowly. We took too long to put pressure on the English. We saw when we upped the pace at times in the second half that we could create chances. But,” he sighed deeply, “if you don’t score, then it becomes very difficult to win games...”
Vladimir Petkovic, after his first game as Swiss coach, concurred with the widespread feeling that the Swiss had not done enough to test England until the start of the second-half. He bemoaned his team’s “timidity on too many occasions” but was encouraged by their more vibrant response after half-time. “The lesson we learned was that a Switzerland that is only good for forty minutes or so is not enough to beat a good England team. You have to take your chances because they have players who can make a difference and will eventually punish your mistakes. And the way they did so was very sharp, very clever. But there is no need for us to plunge into doubt. We just have to work even harder.”
Gökhan Inler, being the fine, upstanding captain that he is, was quick to acknowledge his error in losing the ball in midfield, which led to the first goal that swung the game. Inler, along with several of his colleagues, cited the new, more flexible tactical system instituted by Petkovic as being something the team will need longer to get used to. They have, after all, only had five days together and no friendlies since the World Cup and the retirement of Ottmar Hitzfeld.
For all of the refreshing refusal to panic and absence of hysteria, the nagging doubt identified by many fans and most of the media here is that once again Switzerland have failed to beat a “big” football nation in a competitive fixture. Rather touchingly, the frequently Anglophile Swiss still regard England as being in that bracket.
This failing is in danger of descending into a complex because the Swiss know that their official status as a top-10 ranked team will never truly be accepted until they start to beat the big nations on a regular basis. They also know that meeting one of them in as vulnerable a state as England were last night is an opportunity that will not come around very often.