Switzerland’s main contribution to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ thus far has been a masterclass in defending. Their stunning 1-0 victory over European champions Spain, still the biggest upset of the tournament so far, was founded on superbly drilled defensive play. That attribute was hardly less on display in a 1-0 defeat to Chile: following Valon Behrami’s early dismissal, the Swiss repelled wave after wave of attacks, and although the rock-solid rearguard was pierced once, Eren Derdiyok very nearly grabbed a point for his side at the death. Switzerland racked up 559 consecutive minutes’ play at the FIFA World Cup before conceding that goal to Chile, a new record.
However, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s men must now pull a sharp U-turn, as they almost certainly require a win over Honduras in their last match to progress from the group. A 2-0 scoreline in their favour would guarantee their passage to the last 16. "Anything could happen for all three nations, Chile, Spain and Switzerland, because if the Chileans lose, they could easily miss out,” midfielder Gokhan Inler told FIFA. "We need to focus on ourselves and beat Honduras if we can."
Switzerland now have to go for goals, as Hitzfeld confirmed. "If you have to win, you have to attack. We’ll definitely play a different game this time. We know we have to win by two goals to be sure of qualifying. We can make the last sixteen without outside help. It's a final for us, and we want to win this final."
However, there is no guarantee that such a radical change in approach will succeed. Indeed, is it possible to transform the team’s fundamentally defensive orientation for a single match? A degree of doubt is justified, judging by Switzerland’s struggle to create openings after conceding the 75th minute goal to the Chileans. The Europeans had of course been a man down for 45 minutes by then, and a judgement formed on a passage of play with a ten-man team chasing the game in the last quarter of an hour may well be based on too little evidence, but creative inspiration was undoubtedly at a premium.
Taking an alternative point of view, Hitzfeld feels the dynamics of the last matchday in the group are in his team’s favour. "Honduras play similar football to Chile, although they perhaps don’t possess such good individuals. They’re strong and quick up front, but not as convincing defensively as Chile or Spain. The game opens up when they attack, so the extra space could be an advantage for us. Honduras will be an unbelievably tense match. We’re looking forward to it, because we could earn ourselves a big reward. We’ll see 90 hard-fought minutes, because Honduras will come at us." Despite two defeats so far, the central Americans are by no means out of it, as a big win for them and defeat for Spain could yet see them through.
Hitzfeld’s players are prepared for the imminent change in tactics, as right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner explained to FIFA: "We have to score, and we will score. I believe in our quality. Against Spain and in qualifying, we proved we know where the goal is. We’re dangerous when we play as a team. We have to rise to the occasion now and play against Honduras as if our lives depended on it." The 26-year-old has no doubt that Switzerland are capable of adjusting their game to suit the occasion. "We have very good strikers, and we’re technically a good team, so a tactical switch won’t be a problem. We don’t have the individual stars like Argentina and Spain, so we have to function perfectly as a team."
So will we be treated to the Swiss in cavalier mood, chasing goals hell-for-leather and blasting into the last sixteen with all guns blazing? Inler suggests not. "We don’t have to spend the whole game attacking. Honduras are a good team with some quick players. We need to keep it tight and close down the space, then switch from defence to attack at speed. And we need to be more efficient with our chances." The 25-year-old has no doubt he and his team-mates will succeed. "We’ll get through, because we’ll put our hearts and souls into it!"