They suffered similar disappointment at the same stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, when they kept pace with Argentina for 118 minutes before having the game snatched away from them late in extra time. Coach Vladimir Petkovic’s side also fell at the same hurdle at UEFA EURO 2016 in France two years ago as they lost narrowly to Poland on penalties.
“It’s all very disappointing, as we were desperate to reach the quarter-final,” said Yann Sommer as he attempted to put his emotions into words. “Sometimes it’s the little things that decide a game. We were lacking those flashes of inspiration that you need to win. It’s a horrible feeling, and it’ll take us a few more days yet to process our exit.”
The encounter gave Switzerland a significant opportunity to make history. Die Eidgenossen have not reached a World Cup quarter-final since 1954, and have not won a knockout game in any competition since 1938 – an unpleasant run that will now continue for at least another two years. “It’s tough to take,” said Johan Djourou. “We’ve gone out in the Round of 16 for the third tournament in a row. But we’ll try again. We always will.”
So what went wrong against Sweden? After two impressive performances against Brazil (1-1) and Serbia (2-1), this last 16 encounter was more reminiscent of Switzerland’s match against Costa Rica. While Petkovic’s team were slightly sharper than their opponents, at key moments they lacked the creative spark of star players such as Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, who made the difference against Serbia in the group stage.
“Sweden kept their midfield extremely compact as expected,” said Steven Zuber, while Petkovic added: “We shouldn’t compare this match with the others. We simply weren’t good enough against Sweden. It’s extremely disappointing as we wanted to reach the quarter-finals, but with hindsight I’m very proud of my team. They made it out of a difficult group.”
One thing that remains unclear is why Switzerland did not seriously attempt to restrict Emil Forsberg as they did with Neymar against Brazil. The RB Leipzig man was at the heart of Sweden’s play throughout the game, and had plenty of time and space for the goal, despite the fact that his shot took a fortunate deflection off Manuel Akanji. “It was a frustrating goal to concede and a difficult one to accept,” said Djourou. “I think we played better than Sweden. We were solid but struggled to link up well.”
Josip Drmic summed it up succinctly: “There was no way past Sweden once they scored. That was checkmate.”