The custodian also talked about the Swiss’ advantage over Brazil.
This match pitches five-time FIFA World Cup™-winners Brazil against unheralded Switzerland and on paper at least, the result seems a foregone conclusion. The bookmakers currently quote Brazil as firm as 9-1 on to win, so betting against the South Americans would surely be a fool’s errand.
But this is the FIFA World Cup where normal rules do not apply, and amid the fanfare and excitement ahead of their first match, one or two historical pointers suggest Switzerland might just back themselves to take a point – or even all three – on Sunday (kick-off 19:00 local time).
Indeed, Vladimir Petkovic’s side have no reason to fear. Few may remember, but Switzerland were in a very similar position prior to the 1950 FIFA World Cup, which was held in Brazil. Observers barely gave them a prayer against the football-crazy host nation, but the sides’ first ever meeting ended in a 2-2 draw.
Some 68 years later, goalkeeper Yann Sommer is certainly daring to dream. “If we’re able to go into the game focused and with enough self-belief, then Brazil won’t find it easy. We’re really focused on playing well and we want to get something from the game.”
Brazil, for their part, have just as much riding on the opening match as their opponents. They will not enjoy being reminded of their last two outings in this tournament – 2014’s painful 7-1 semi-final capitulation against Germany and a subsequent 3-0 defeat to Netherlands in the match for third place. This Seleção have plenty to atone for, and the entire world, not just the millions at home, will be watching and waiting for them to do so.
In that sense, it could well be the case that Brazil do not come out all guns blazing with their famous attacking football right from the off, but instead approach things a little more cautiously. A draw would be a setback; a defeat does not bear thinking about. “They don’t quite know where they are in terms of how to play this game,” said Swiss defender Ricardo Rodriguez. “That could be an advantage.”
Unsurprisingly, the main topic of conversation among Die Nati is Brazil’s star player and difference maker: Neymar. Cutting in from the left, the Paris Saint-Germain forward is quick, direct and unpredictable, but Petkovic and his staff have devised a plan to neutralise him.
Captain Stephan Lichtsteiner will be given the job of shackling Neymar, not necessarily physically as much as mentally. The 34-year-old is a fierce, determined and experienced competitor, against whom many a Serie A striker fell foul over the last ten years. Much of Switzerland’s progress will depend on the form of their evergreen captain, and it is telling that he has been shielded from the media spotlight this week ahead of the match. Such a task demands the utmost concentration.
Finally, we should not forget the last meeting between these two teams, back in 2013, when Switzerland prevailed 1-0. It may only have been a friendly, but it mattered to Rodriguez and it confirmed another characteristic of this Swiss side. “Against the big teams, we always play well.”