Vladimir Petkovic’s team wary of repeating 2014 World Cup hammering by France

19 June ~ “The glass is half full” declared “Nati” coach, Vladimir Petkovic, after the 1-1 draw with Romania in Paris. Petkovic’s comment captured the almost unanimous verdict across Switzerland on the team’s performance so far. The positives are that the Swiss have controlled large parts of their games against Albania and Romania and are on course to qualify for the second round of a European Championship for the first time ever.

The negative is that pre-tournament concerns about the team’s inability to turn their dominance into goals have proven justified. The run of misfortune suffered by Switzerland’s strikers over the past six months rivals that of Spinal Tap’s drummers and much attention is being focused on the incumbent centre-forward, Haris Seferovic.

Seferovic is receiving some stick for his current inability to score. Worse still, much of that irritation is now dissolving into sympathy. Most observers recognise how hard he works for the team and the quality of his hold-up play. But you can sense people wincing with him when he arrives in front of goal with the ball at his feet. The only available alternative to Seferovic is effervescent youngster Breel Embolo, whose pace alarms defenders. However, his less sure touch and patchier positional awareness reduces the team’s attacking cohesion.

Seferovic will probably retain his place and his drought need not necessarily be a problem. Petkovic’s plan is to use him as a focal point, with supporting players such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Admir Mehmedi capitalising on his good work to score the goals. With the exception of Mehmedi’s fierce strike against Romania, this has yet to happen sufficiently.

Indeed, the form of Shaqiri himself is raising questions, along with that of the captain Stephan Lichtsteiner. Their currently misfiring combination down the right is important to Switzerland. But without the cover provided by the rock-solid back three of his club side, Juventus, Lichtsteiner is frequently caught in two minds between bombing forward and scrambling to do his defensive duties. Inevitably, he ends up doing neither particularly well, as illustrated by the needless penalty he conceded to Romania. Shaqiri in turn appears inhibited by the insecurity behind him.

It would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago but the daily paper Le Matin is questioning whether one of Switzerland’s two best outfield players should be replaced by the more reliable Michael Lang for the game against France. Leaving out the talisman, Shaqiri, or the strong-willed Lichtsteiner would cause ructions in the dressing room. But the Swiss are haunted by the hammering France gave them during the last World Cup and Petkovic is boldly indifferent to reputations. At the very least, he will know that he has to solve the Shaqiri/Lichtsteiner and striking conundrums if Switzerland are to avoid another battering and go much further in the tournament. Paul Knott

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