World Cup Group E: Switzerland must keep Costa Rica on mat to reach knockout rounds

After a 1-1 draw with Brazil and a comeback victory over rivals Serbia, last week, Switzerland will feel quietly confident about their chances of qualifying from a tough group where all but one team can still advance and the standings are finely poised. 

The two sides have met twice before, in a 2006 four-team tournament and again in a 2010 friendly. The results are one win apiece. Given the importance of all three points on this occasion, it’d be an unwelcome surprise from a Swiss perspective if this meeting was the first to end in a draw.

That will be enough for them to progress into the knockout rounds, but will not guarantee top spot from Group E, so they need to avoid complacency and hope Brazil-Serbia ends in a favourable result.

Switzerland’s goalscorers, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, could be facing two-match suspensions each after their celebrations during the dramatic 2-1 win over Serbia on Friday. The pair both used a gesture appearing to imitate the eagle on Albania’s flag, causing controversy among Serbians, who refuse to recognise the independence of its former province Kosovo, where most of the 1.8 million population are ethnic Albanians.

This gesture during goal celebrations has landed Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka in trouble with FIFA.

Switzerland

FIFA Ranking: 6th

With that in mind, the potential absence of both Xhaka and Shaqiri could prove key in determining whether or not Switzerland manage to prevail. Between the pair, they have amassed 130 international caps to date. Shaqiri, the elder, is still only 26.

Vladimir Petkovic’s insistence to play a 4-2-3-1 formation has provided both width and protection for the Swiss backline. Critics have regularly suggested Shaqiri’s abilities are limited when put on a leash and Benfica’s Haris Seferovic has not done enough to prove reliable as a lone frontman.

I remain unconvinced in regards to Blerim Dzemaili’s creative abilities. He’s always struck me as the defensive-minded central midfielder. That he has played in the number ten role during their two group games is a surprise. Dinamo Zagreb winger Mario Gavranovic was impressive off the bench against Serbia. Why not give him a start here? Steven Zuber or Shaqiri could move into a more central role, allowing them the freedom to create.

With that in mind, it’s difficult to look past selecting Schalke’s talented forward Breel Embolo to lead the line going forward. Two brief substitute appearances have not been enough for the 21-year-old to showcase his ability. Troublesome injuries in recent seasons mean he has only completed 90 minutes twice in 2018.

Elsewhere, Josip Drmic is known for scoring goals in patches and made a brief cameo against Serbia. Other than that, there are not many obvious players who Petkovic could choose. An experienced core within his group makes it tougher for younger players to impress.

In Russia, Costa Rica haven’t found the same magic they had in Brazil.

Costa Rica

FIFA Ranking: 23rd

The Ticos have no fresh injuries to report, although alterations and a change of tactics should be in order. Bryan Ruiz, Celso Borges, Cristian Gamboa and Óscar Duarte make up this side’s core base. You’d be surprised not to see all four starting again. Their 3-4-2-1 formation almost paid off with a point against Brazil last time out, but two stoppage-time goals sealed their fate following an underwhelming start to the tournament.

No team wants to go home without points. Oscar Ramirez should rotate and change his tactics accordingly. The 3-back is really a convenient disguise to play five defenders when out of possession. This stifles the opposition but also means your most effective scoring method is via counterattack. Switzerland have enough pace in their backline to deal with that threat. Further, their midfielders are more than happy to commit a tactical foul if needs must.

Arsenal winger Joel Campbell, despite his tendency to go missing for periods in games, should start here. He can unlock defences with pace and dribbling ability. He only made a cameo in their first game and didn’t feature at all against Brazil.

Marco Urena found himself isolated in attack and frankly needs more help if he’s to have success here. Switching to a 4-3-3 could help. Costa Rica would have both a midfield trio to match Switzerland as well as three capable attackers to test their backline.

Embolo, who made two cameos in their previous group games, could start and have an impact here.

Prediction

Switzerland to win, although it may be close. Costa Rica will be eager to go home with some pride intact after their surprise achievements four years ago, but the overall quality within their squad is not good enough to repeat their success again here.

While three points would be comforting, they obviously mean more to the Swiss, who can top the group should Brazil draw or lose to Serbia, which is not out of the question given how the South Americans have flattered to deceive until now.

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