Two days ago, Xherdan Shaqiri insisted Switzerland weren't reliant on his talents. "I cannot dribble from the back to the front," he declared. "We are Switzerland, not Spain, not Brazil. Switzerland needs to be successful as a team."
He might not be able to dribble past them all, but he can certainly stick them away for his team when he wants to. Against Honduras the 22-year-old helped himself to three; two before half-time and another to wrap up the game 20 minutes from time. His first – a corker from 20 yards while heading away from goal – set the tone for the youngster's clinical display in the sapping heat of Manaus.
He only started 10 games for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga last season, but the twinkle-toed Swiss showed no signs of rustiness. Indeed, his fifth-minute opener was a beauty; picking the ball up near the touchline, he cut inside before unleashing a cracker off the underside of the crossbar past Noel Valladares.
In the first 15 minutes Honduras had actually controlled the majority of possession, making almost three times as many passes as Switzerland.
...but ultimately they were wasteful with it (Switzerland finished with 17 interceptions to Honduras' 7 - indicative of loose play in the opposition half). In the first half an hour they fired 4 shots at goal and got 0 of them on target. Their European victors had netted twice from 3 shots on target. Shaqiri's second goal came after a fine run which split a poorly-organised Honduras rearguard: fellow youngster Josip Drmic supplied, and his Bundesliga team-mate applied the finish.
At half-time Switzerland were two goals to the good, yet Honduras' first-half possession had pushed their wide midfield players incredibly deep. Admir Mehmedi, usually a goal-getting forward, did more work around his own penalty area than at the other end of the pitch. But when Switzerland broke they did so efficiently, and Honduras were simply too badly positioned to do anything about it.
...which is why, again, they resorted to fouling their opponents before they started attacks: most came in the Switzerland half.
As well as Shaqiri, newly signed Bayer Leverkusen forward Drmic was also impressing. He only received 10 passes in a first half where he was pushed wide (despite netting 19 Bundesliga goals for struggling Nuremberg last season), but created 3 chances and tested Valladares twice. There would be more to come later too.
The second half played out in much the same way, although this time the Honduras threat was real. Oddly they focused all of their efforts to one side of the pitch, as Wilson Palacios became a nominal left winger, and were denied a stonewall penalty at 2-0 down when Jerry Palacios was bundled over by Johan Djourou. Before that they'd blown two good chances via Jerry Bengston.
In under 10 minutes, however, the game was over and Shaqiri had his hat-trick. A direct ball to Drmic beat the Honduras defence in one fell swoop, although the 21-year-old's terrific assist was largely down to the twist and turn that beat Victor Bernardez all ends up. The hat-trick goal for Shaqiri was put on a plate – Drmic's second assist and 1 of 4 chances he created on the night.
This, however, was really all about one man. He won't get 7 chances to score against Argentina, but should he demonstrate the same cutting edge against Messi & Co., Ottmar Hitzfeld's men have every chance of hitting the Albiceleste where it hurts. If Shaqiri still has a point to prove to Pep at Bayern, he's making it very well indeed.
Facts and figures
- Switzerland have never lost against a CONCACAF team at the World Cup (W2 D2).
- Honduras have never won against European opposition at the World Cup (D3 L4).
- Honduras have kept just 1 clean sheet in their 9 World Cup matches (vs Switzerland, 2010).
- Xherdan Shaqiri scored the 50th hat-trick in the history of the World Cup.
- Indeed, Shaqiri is the first Switzerland player to score a hat-trick at the World Cup since Josef Hügi vs Austria in 1954.
- Honduras have conceded 2 or more goals in 4 of their last 5 World Cup matches.
- Shaqiri’s opener was the second-fastest goal for Switzerland in World Cup history (Wüthrich, 5th minute vs Chile, 1962).
- Honduras have failed to score in their last 5 games against European teams at the World Cup.
- Switzerland have scored in each of their 3 group games at a World Cup finals for the first time in their history.
- Honduras have now played 9 games without a win at the World Cup (D3 L6). They have played more matches at the World Cup without winning than any other side (New Zealand, El Salvador and Bolivia – all 6).
- Josip Drmic is only the second Switzerland player to provide 2 assists in a single World Cup match (Rodriguez vs Ecuador, 2014).