Switzerland struck a last gasp winner to break Ecuadorean hearts in their Group E opener this morning (Singapore time) in Brasilia.
The match looked destined for a draw until the final few seconds, when Haris Seferovic finished from close range to bag all three points. That the winning goal came just seconds after a match-saving tackle by Valon Behrami at the other end only made it all the crueller for Ecuador.
Enner Valencia had headed home the opener for the South American side after 22 minutes, while Admir Mehmedi nodded in a corner two minutes after half-time. Both goals came from set-pieces and the match was profoundly underwhelming.
If there are three groups of death in this tournament, then Group E is certainly the group of life. Neither Ecuador nor Honduras can consider themselves the best of their confederations and, while France have talent, they also have baggage. Switzerland, the seeded side, should not have made this look so difficult.
Manager Ottmar Hitzfeld is one of the most successful coaches in European football.
He is one of only five men to win the Champions League with two different clubs. He will call it a day after this tournament, but if he can't get his team through this group, he'll spend most of his retirement kicking himself.
Switzerland boast some of Europe's most exciting developing talents within their ranks, products of the U17 World Cup winning side of 2009 and the runners-up of the U21 European Championships in 2011. They had a midfield loaded with players like Napoli's Gokhan Inler, Xherdan Shaqiri of Bayern Munich and Granit Xhaqa of Borussia Monchengladbach.
And yet they struggled to find their groove for much of the game. Too many key passes went astray, too many attacking moves broke down before they could bear fruit.
As anxiety set in, Shaquiri and Xhaqa began to fire in long shots, hoping to rattle Alexander Dominguez in the Ecuadoran goal, but to no avail.
Ecuador, for their part, started swiftly, firing long balls into the channels, earning a corner after just 25 seconds as they sought to find room behind the notoriously tight-fisted Swiss defence. They were crude, rough and ready and it paid dividends.
Walter Ayovi fired in a free-kick from out wide and Enner Valencia rose unopposed to head home. Johan Djourou, once of Arsenal, appeared to be the man at fault.
Switzerland intensified their efforts, surging forward again as Ecuador dropped back to defend their lead, but without ever really testing Dominguez.
As half-time approached, it actually seemed more likely that the South Amercians would score, particularly with Jefferson Montero in such scintillating form. Hitzfeld rang the changes at the break, hauling Basle's Valentin Stocker off for Admir Mehmedi. He made an instant impact.
With two minutes of the restart, Switzerland were level. Ricardo Rodriguez's corner caused panic in the Ecuador box, goalkeeper Dominguez was caught in two minds, Carlos Gruezo barely moved and Mehmedi took full advantage to nod home the equaliser.
Josip Drnic, an anonymous presence throughout, thought he'd put his country in the lead on 70 minutes when he poked home from close range, but the officials thought otherwise.
Not for the first time in this tournament, they were wrong. Justice was delivered in the dying seconds by Seferovic.
This article was first published on June 16, 2014.
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