The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat intertwined in dramatic fashion in Brasilia, as substitute Haris Seferovic helped Switzerland land a stoppage-time punch to the stomach to floor Ecuador and grab all three points in Group E.
As Europe met South America in an intriguing clash of styles, Ottmar Hitzfeld's Switzerland ran out 2-1 winners. Ecuador had taken the lead through Enner Valencia's 22nd-minute header, before second-half goals from two subs won the day. Ahmed Mehmedi and Seferovic, a graduate of Switzerland's Under-17 World Cup-winning Class of 2009, were the heroes.
Switzerland had never beaten South American in a World Cup prior to this game, and if that statistic lent them a certain air of caution it showed early on. Switzerland saw more of the ball but the game's tempo was somewhat lackadaisical. Ecuador sat in a compact 4-4-2 shape which aimed to deny their opponents space in forward areas while looking to play to their biggest forte - quick, direct breaks down the flanks on the counter-attack, using the turbo speed and running power of Jefferson Montero, Antonio Valencia and Walter Ayovi. They lacked cohesion, however. It was a cagey start from both teams.
In qualifying for this tournament Ecuador scored one-fifth of their goals from set-pieces and this was how they made the breakthrough. The lack of space in central positions had made the quality of delivery from wide areas a key battle ground in the first half. Both teams had chances to whip balls into the box but Ecuador were marginally better, and, in the 22nd minute, they made it count when a fine ball from Walter Ayovi was glanced in by the in-form Enner Valencia.
Xherdan Shaqiri was one of Switzerland's chief instigators in the first half, a prominent protagonist, but his crossing left a lot to be desired and he was wasteful - particularly in comparison with the clinical Ayovi.
Despite conceding, Switzerland saw more of the ball and although they lacked cohesion, they mustered more shots - albeit in areas that did little to cause Ecuador concern. Valon Behrami was the game's top passer at this point, and would end the game with 67/79 completed.
Nonetheless, Gokhan Inler and Shaqiri were the only real bright sparks in Switzerland's first-half display, with the talented Josip Drmic in attack offering little. Enner Valencia, the goalscorer, was a livewire. In the second half Inler and Behrami started to take control of midfield, while Ecuador went into their shell.
Within minutes of the restart, Admir Mehmedi nodded home Ricardo Rodriguez's wicked corner as cross warfare continued. A smart move from Hitzfeld, who had brought Mehmedi on only minutes earlier. Wide areas continued to be the main duelling ground, and Switzerland had chances in the 71st and 72nd minutes. Drmic tapped in but it was perhaps wrongly disallowed while Shaqiri should have done better with a big counter-attacking chance, only managing to hit the side-netting. Juan Carlos Paredes had left space at right-back, leading to the move, and after an effective and lively game he was clearly starting to tire down that right side. His fatigue would have significant consequences.
Between the 60th and 84th minute, however, there were very few chances, and the game began to drift towards what looked like a draw that seemed suitable for both sides.
But in this World Cup of high drama, there was more to come. A late Antonio Valencia foray into the box created a chance for substitute Michael Arroyo. Behrami made an outstanding last-gasp tackle, before launching the move that would decide the game. Paredes had charged forward and declined to track back, either out of sheer tiredness or because he thought the final whistle was imminent. Ricardo Rodriguez, excellent throughout, had space down the left, therefore, and fired in a cross - another cross in this game of wide play - to Seferovic, who tapped home the winner. Devastating for Ecuador, delirium for Switzerland. Behrami, the game's top passer, and Rodriguez, with 2 assists, had combined to win their country the match.
Facts and figures
- Switzerland posted their highest possession (62.16%) and passing accuracy (87.7%) rates in a World Cup match since 1966.
- Ecuador have lost every World Cup match in which they’ve conceded (5 games).
- Switzerland have failed to keep a clean sheet against South American opposition at the World Cup in 6 matches.
- The Swiss have won their first World Cup match against a South American side at the 6th attempt (D1 L4).
- Enner Valencia has scored in each of his last 5 appearances for Ecuador.
- Ecuador have gone 6 matches in all competitions without keeping a clean sheet.
- Admir Mehmedi had been on the pitch for just 121 seconds before scoring for Switzerland.
- It’s the 1st time both teams have scored in any of Switzerland's last 10 World Cup finals matches.
- 8 of Switzerland’s last 10 goals at the World Cup have come in the second half.
- Xherdan Shaqiri created 4 chances for his team-mates, more than any other player on the pitch.