A stunning, scarcely believable conclusion in Brasilia saw Switzerland steal victory against Ecuador in their Group E opener on Sunday, as substitute Haris Seferovic completed an end-to-end counter-attack to secure a 2-1 win for the Europeans.
Seconds earlier a last-ditch tackle from Valon Behrami had prevented Ecuador from themselves wresting away all three points, as an otherwise mediocre contest suddenly sprung into life in the closing minutes.
Ecuador had earlier taken a first-half lead thanks to Enner Valencia's close-range header, before Switzerland—who started somewhat sluggishly—got on level terms in almost identical fashion just three minutes after half-time. Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld brought on Admir Mehmedi to start the second half to change the dynamic of the contest, and he duly made an immediate impact, heading home Ricardo Rodriguez's corner.
Despite occasional forays forward from both sides, that equaliser looked like ensuring both countries would share the spoils, but Rodriguez had one final ball to deliver in the third and final minute of additional time—the full-back storming down the left and firing in a perfect low ball for Seferovic to fire emphatically into the net.
Switzerland celebrated the goal emphatically. Ecuador, in contrast, could scarcely believe they had come away with nothing. Barely 15 seconds before Seferovic's finish it looked it was they who would get the winner, before Behrami stepped in to prevent Michael Arroyo getting a clear shot at goal.
It was a thrilling end to a contest that had not always lived up to the drama and excitement we have already seen from most games in this World Cup. Both sides started with attacking ambition but little incision, with Xherdan Shaqiri and Jefferson Montero both looking lively on the ball without managing to create any obvious chances.
Ecuador broke the deadlock after 22 minutes, but it was perhaps fitting that it came from a dead-ball situation. Valencia was the goalscorer, the striker wriggling free of the attentions of Johan Djourou—who otherwise had a solid game, justifying his selection—to power home Walter Ayovi's pinpoint free-kick.
Switzerland tried to summon a response before the break, but covering Ecuador defenders foiled the lively and elusive Josip Drmic any time he tried to get through on goal. The Europeans were also not helped by their wastefulness, squandering good positions with poor deliveries on more than one occasion.
Annoyed by his side's performance, Hitzfeld made a change at half-time, bringing on Mehmedi for the ineffectual Valentin Stocker.
The move made an immediate impact. Switzerland had tended to play most of their corners short in the first half, but with their first such opportunity Rodriguez hit a ball into the middle of the six-yard box, and Mehmedi beat the goalkeeper to the ball to steer it home.
Both sides could have perhaps been forgiven for taking a draw from their World Cup opener, but with France and Honduras the other sides in their group, both instead seemed to sense that a victory would really enhance their chances of progressing to the next phase.
Ecuador pushed forward, as Valencia and Montero both forced decent saves from Diego Benaglio, before Arroyo's deflected free-kick forced the goalkeeper to turn sharply in order to palm the ball away. Despite those moments, however, it was Switzerland who actually went closest. Drmic saw a goal controversially ruled out for offside, although replays subsequently suggested he had been harshly done by.
That simply set the stage for the most dramatic end to a game of the tournament to date. It was Ecuador who looked like they might nick a winner, as Antonio Valencia sprang free down the right and found Arroyo unmarked in space inside the box.
But, after a moment's hesitation from the sub, Behrami would dive in and make the vital tackle to deny the forward, before launching the counter-attack that ended with Seferovic deciding the game.
Nine games in, this World Cup is still to see a draw.
Switzerland are now on the front foot in the group and face France, who were winners later in the day, on June 20. A win will in all probability secure their place in the second round, but France were hugely impressive against Honduras and will be tough opponents.
Note: Ratings based on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst and 10 the best.
|Switzerland Player Ratings|
|Player||1st-half rating||2nd-half rating|
|Ecuador Player Ratings|
|Player||1st-half rating||2nd-half rating|
Ecuador's coach Reinaldo Rueda blamed inexperience for the somewhat gung-ho approach in the final minutes that left his side open to being hit on the counter-attack, acknowledging that emotion had perhaps got the better of some of his players.
Per Reuters, Rueda told reporters:
It was a moment of naivety.
We lost our organisation at the end, we were somewhat betrayed by our emotion and this provoked the goal which took the draw away from us.
Switzerland, in contrast, felt that the victory may have come late but was more than warranted, with Xherdan Shaqiri—who received FIFA's official man-of-the-match award—praising the side's collective spirit to come away with the right result.
We could have gone 2-1 behind but we managed to make a very good save and then scored up the other end.
After half-time we played a lot of simpler passes and we let the ball do the work and that created chances.