It took until the final group match, number 16, of the opening week for the footballing world to witness the first major upset of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but what an upset it was, as tournament favourites, Spain, fell to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Switzerland.
Prior to this match, Spain had an impressive record in international football. They coasted their qualification to this tournament after lifting the Euro 2008 trophy with relative ease.
Switzerland were not expected to put up a huge amount of resistance against Spain’s team full of international and club superstars, but their result today was all about resolve and resistance.
The Swiss defended for their lives for the full 95 minutes of time played and, when given their chance to score a goal of their own, they somehow willed the ball over the line on 52 minutes through the lively Fernandes, showing Spain that it is not possession that counts, but goals, in this game.
Switzerland’s goal came from a goal kick that was flicked on by a Spain midfielder ducking out from the high ball, then deflected towards Derdiyok, whose miss-control put him into a 50-50 battle with Casillas. The Spanish goalkeeper went for an awkward looking slide tackle inside his area instead of smothering the ball with his hands. The ball spun out towards Fernandes as Derdiyok flipped over Casillas’ legs. Fernandes scuffed a shot into the prostrate Spanish defender who was rushing back to block off the open goal, before he righted himself and smashed the ball home at the second attempt.
As Fernandes raced towards the TV cameras of the world and displayed a v for victory sign with his fingers, time seemed to slow down a little as the watching millions computed the magnitude of what he had just done.
Switzerland rode their luck, too, as they played out to full time – chances fell to Xavi Alonso (who smashed a beauty into the bar) and Iniesta (who should have done better with a curling shot from the edge of the area) – but they deserved at least a point if not the three they eventually got when the final whistle blew.
This gritty performance must give hope to many smaller nations that a victory is possible against any team, if you organise yourselves correctly. The Swiss defence was magnificent today, and Spain, even with the late introduction of Torres, who seemed a little off his usual brilliant best, appeared to run short on ideas against a defence whom they could not beat in the air, and could not play their passes through in the centre of the pitch. Plan C seems to be something they have not had to work on of late. Maybe they need to after today.
Switzerland have a huge chance to qualify now, and, providing they can get a result against Honduras, a point against Chile could be enough to win this group for them.
Spain will have to come out of the blocks faster, and show more attacking rigour, against Chile or they risk an embarrassingly early exit from the 2010 World Cup.