Switzerland vs Spain | Friday 2nd July 2021, 17:00 | ITV
Rewind back to Monday evening at approximately 9:35pm GMT and we were listening to Clive Tyldesley and Ally McCoist eulogising about a vibrant second half French performance which saw them lead 3-1 and set up a mouthwatering fixture to open the Quarter Finals of Euro 2020 here in Saint Petersburg against Spain – but Switzerland had other ideas.
An 81st minute Haris Seferovic bullet header from a pinpoint Kevin Mbabu cross gave the Swiss hope and a cool, precise, last-minute Mario Gavranovic finish incredibly took the tie to extra time with, shortly after saving Kylian Mbappé's penalty to snatch the prized spot in the last eight away from the World Champions, goalkeeper Yann Sommer screaming “What a match! What an evening of football” – and boy was he right!
Possibly even more amazing given that it virtually replicated the earlier Round of 16 tie where the Spanish let a 3-1 lead slip against Croatia before finally finishing off Zlatko Dalić's side in extra time.
Vladimir Petković apologised for his side's performance after their 3-0 group stage loss to Italy but their never say die performance against Didier Deschamp’s side more than made up for that, even so they will have to upset the odds once again in Russia having managed just one victory in 22 games against La Roja, a 1-0 triumph at the 2010 World Cup – a tournament the defeated side went on to win.
The Nati will attempt to do so without the suspended Granit Xhaka who was exceptional in Bucharest, not only covering every blade of grass, flying in to tackles, but being unwavered by the caution that he knew would keep him out of this showdown and showcased an exquisite array of pinpoint long-range passing – which possibly left many an Arsenal fan scratching their head whilst those of a Roma persuasion rubbed their hands together.
Luis Enrique’s side have ominously found their goal scoring form, smashing five goals in their last two outings and you already have to wonder how much the Swiss have left in the tank, not only from the exertions of Monday night but given their horrendous schedule going in to this game.
An opening fixture against Wales in Baku, followed by a five-hour trip to Rome for that humbling at the hands of the Azzurri, back to Azerbaijan for the crucial win over Turkey securing a place in the knockout stages but another three hours on a plane, with a similar time to get Russia – in all clocking up over 13,000km in travel.
In contrast Spain played all three group games at home in Sevilla before making the trip to Denmark for that clash with Croatia and now here for the game at the Gazprom Arena – in all approximately 10,000km less.
As just referenced, Spain have found their shooting boots, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, having amassed an xG of 14.06 (9.0 if you take away penalties) and creating 19 non-penalty big opportunities, it is clear to see these aren’t 35-yard hit and hopes we are talking about, but well-crafted strong goal-scoring chances, illustrated by the fact they have had a tournament high of 53 shots from inside the box with 29 efforts on target – a number only Denmark can better.
When we consider the Swiss, with 6.50, have the highest xGA of any of the remaining eight sides in the competition, as well as allowing the most attempts at their goal (37) and the joint highest on target (19) it would be a massive surprise if they didn’t concede – so will they consider attack the best form of defence?
The Spaniards are definitely not watertight, having conceded in two of their four games so far, registering an xGA of 3.98 in the last round and a tournament average of 1.64 xGA per game – when we consider their first game was against a Sweden side who only had 25% of the ball as they were intent on taking the point they came with and another against a woeful Slovakia, that total looks big.
Therefore, I think the even money (1/1) on offer for both teams to score here looks far too chunky especially in the nature of this knockout format.
So, with the Spanish defence undoubtedly a little vulnerable and there to be got at, who can step up for the Swiss?
Well, if asked at the start of the tournament which player would be sitting with most assists going in to the quarter finals, I don’t think anyone would have nominated Switzerland’s Steven Zuber – in fact if asked that question now I wonder how many would get it right!
The Eintracht Frankfurt man has four assists to his name, including providing the cross for Haris Seferovic’s to nod in his first and the opening goal of that remarkable game against Les Bleus, his other three coming against Turkey to seal his sides qualification out of Group A.
Switzerland’s heavily favoured attacking down Zuber’s side against the French with 45% of their forward play coming from the left, maximising the 29-year-old's ability to put crosses in to the box and feed his side’s aggressive forwards.
With Spain shipping three times against Croatia and their defence looking shaky against balls in to the box, this must be an area that Petković will look to exploit, especially with the physical presence of Seferovic to utalise.
Zuber will most likely be up against Cesar Azpilicueta and I fancy him to cause the Chelsea man several problems – the 9/1 on offer with Sky Bet for the wide man to add at least one more assist to his name looks a great price to me.
Finally, I had to include this play in my armoury having seen it land twice already this tournament and it really caught my attention – even more so when it’s priced up as a 14/1 pop!
Sergio Busquets has picked up the Man of the Match, or UEFA Star of the Match, in both his last two outings, which for player of his world renown is not a massive surprise in itself, however, when you consider his side scored five goals on both occasions and he didn’t add a goal or an assist in either he is clearly doing something right or has friends in high places!
It’s always a leap of faith to play this market, even more so with a defensive midfielder, but given he has walked off with the award a couple of times already let’s hope whichever member of UEFA's Technical Observers has the responsibility for selecting the recipient of the trophy here sees the same as Peter Rudbaek (v Croatia) and Ginés Meléndez (v Slovakia) who both interestingly chose to highlight the balance the Barcelona man brings to his side.
In conclusion, if these sides come close to replicating their last outings in the tournament we are in for the perfect start to the weekend.
Switzerland vs Spain – Both Teams To Score (1/1 Sport Nation)
Switzerland vs Spain – Steven Zuber to assist 1+ goals (9/1 Sky Bet)
Switzerland vs Spain – Sergio Busquets Man of the Match (14/1 William Hill)