Salvador, Brazil—After Switzerland’s 5-2 World Cup defeat against France, an inquest feels inevitable. This was more than a mere loss: This was a symbolic public humiliation.
France are Switzerland’s neighbours. This rivalry is intense and very real. Traditionally, the Swiss raise their game against the French. However, at the Fonte Nova Arena, they capitulated. The Swiss joined Spain and Portugal as victims of the Salvador stadium’s emerging proclivity toward hosting thrashings.
Switzerland still have a good chance of qualifying, but their game against Honduras is now all-important. In the build-up to that match, debate will rage over the Swiss XI.
Much of the attention will focus on Valon Behrami. Behrami endured a difficult afternoon. During his time on the field, he struggled to live with the powerful France midfield. Blaise Matuidi seemed to have the better of Behrami whenever the two met. Matuidi looked quicker, stronger and sharper. Behrami could barely cling to his coat-tails.
He also made a disastrous contribution to the game’s pivotal moment. Within seconds of conceding the opening goal, Behrami gifted possession back to the French. He was punished in the most emphatic of manners, with Matuidi racing in to the box to double the lead. From that moment on, the day belonged to France.
Behrami never emerged for the second half. Perhaps his head was struggling to cope with enormity of his error, or perhaps Ottmar Hitzfeld had simply seen enough. He was replaced by Napoli team-mate Blerim Dzemaili.
Therein lies the reason that Behrami will receive more focus than most: There is a credible alternative. Dzemali improved upon Behrami’s performance and capped his day with a goal. He will feel he warrants a start in the final group game. Few Swiss fans will want to see Behrami back in a hurry.
There’s not an absence of other potential scapegoats. Despite saving a penalty, goalkeeper Diego Benaglio failed to cover himself in glory. He got a hand to Olivier Giroud’s opener but was only able to palm it in to the net, whilst he was beaten easily at his near post for the second goal.
Philippe Senderos, introduced for the injured Steve von Bergen, made Johan Djourou look the model of composure—and that’s some going. Watching Aston Villa fans will have been filled with dread at the prospect of Senderos returning to the Premier League next season. His duel with Giroud was an enormous mismatch, and his air-kick that led to Karim Benzema’s goal was almost as embarrassing as the final scoreline.
However, it is Behrami who will feel the heat most acutely. Football is a notoriously cruel game: In Switzerland’s opening match against Ecuador he was the hero, blocking a shot in his own box before starting the move that led to a stoppage-time winner.
A matter of days later and he has been recast as the villain. Fate loves nothing more than to whip away a footballer’s pedestal. Behrami’s performance against France was hugely costly. After Dzemali’s impressive contribution, he seems likely to pay the price with his place in the side.