For a team built around its solid defence, conceding six goals in the first two games of the FIFA World Cup must have come as quite a shock. As a result of such uncertainty at the back, Switzerland took the field against Honduras under considerable pressure, needing not only to score enough goals to ensure victory, but just as importantly, seeking a convincing display from the part of the team that had been such a weak point in the 5-2 defeat against France.
In the end, the 3-0 win that guaranteed qualification for the Round of 16 was enough to keep everyone happy. The attack, where Xherdan Shaqiri had an inspired afternoon, looked dangerous throughout, and the defence achieved its goal of keeping a clean sheet. Even the occasional chances that Honduras created could not stop the Swiss rearguard from celebrating their performance.
“I think we played well as a unit today. We had to be solid at the back so that our midfielders and forwards could do their jobs further up the pitch,” right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner told FIFA.com. “We needed to answer the critics and I think we can be satisfied with our display. We put in a good performance and were never in too much danger.”
“Honduras might have already been eliminated, but they gave Ecuador a tough time in their previous game,” central defender Johan Djourou told FIFA.com.“In the second half, they showed real fighting spirit, so it was important for us to keep our concentration, and show that we had the character to bounce back from our last game. The match against France was definitely a setback, but it woke us up just in time, and let us know that we had to do better.”
With improved balance between the different parts of the team, Switzerland managed to avoid a repeat of the 2010 World Cup, when the team were knocked out at the group stage. There is clearly still room for improvement, however, especially in a tournament where the strikers have been making life so difficult for opposing defences. “The standard of attacking play at this World Cup has been very high. There have been hardly any goalless draws, and even big teams like Italy, Spain and England have suffered,” Djourou explained. “Everyone wants to see goals, and the football here has been so good because of the quality of the offensive side of the game. But it means defenders like me really have our work cut out,” he added, laughing.
The central defender’s thoughts apply just as well to Switzerland’s next World Cup opponents. The team will face an Argentina side that have displayed a few defensive weaknesses of their own in their first three games. “We watched their game against Nigeria, and there were five goals. It’s like I said: defences are having problems, even those of the biggest teams,” said Djourou. “That’s why someone like Xherdan [Shaqiri] can be important. He has so much quality. He can be a real threat and change the rhythm of the game. We scored three today but it could have been more.”
At least for this battle of two defences which are still trying to find their best form at the World Cup, Switzerland can count on the support of the whole team, and perhaps an entire country, to help them recover from the shock of the result of their second game. “I’m proud of the team and our coaching staff, because they really helped to motivate us after the match against France,” said Lichtsteiner. “They sent us messages showing that all Switzerland was behind us. It was really important for the players.”
It is with this spirit that Djourou and his teammates will try to recapture the impressive form that Switzerland had been displaying until the France game, especially during the team’s World Cup qualifying campaign, when they conceded just six goals in ten games. “We’ve always had a reputation as a team that defends well, as a group, so it’s vital that we recapture that defensive solidity,” said the defender. “If we can manage that, anything is possible.” Against Argentina and a certain Lionel Messi, they will need all the help they can get.