European underdogs Sweden and Switzerland face each other in the penultimate round of 16 match on Tuesday at the Krestovsky Stadium, with the winner booking a quarterfinal clash with either England or Colombia.
Sweden and Switzerland are never considered to be footballing heavyweights. Sweden last reached the quarters 24 years ago while the Swiss haven’t been in one since 1954. But a huge opportunity awaits both nations as the winner would definitely get higher than they aimed for by reaching the quarter-final stage. With neither Colombia nor England looking impressive so far in the tournament, the winners of this clash would fancy a place in the World Cup semi-finals, where fellow underdogs Russia or Croatia would await.
Sweden shocked everyone by topping one of the toughest groups in the World cup with six points from their three games. They bagged emphatic victories against South Korea and Mexico while they were unlucky to narrowly lose against defending champions Germany. Their defence has looked solid with captain Granqvist leading from the front and even bagging a goal. The wingers have had a tremendous tournament so far while the strikers have ensured that goals come in every match. They come into the round of 16 after a fine attacking display against Mexico in which they scored three goals.
Switzerland finished in second place in group E behind Brazil. They are one of the few sides yet to be beaten in the tournament and would look to keep that record on Tuesday. A draw against Brazil was followed by a fascinating victory against Serbia and another entertaining draw with Costa Rica. The fact that they only finished runners-up does not do justice to their performance so far in the tournament. Though their defence has been leaky, their attackers have more than made up for it with six goals in three games. Granit Xhaka is bossing the midfield while Behrami and Shaqiri are in fine form heading into the match. Their performances have enabled the Swiss to climb to an astonishing sixth place in the FIFA World rankings.
Sweden boss Janne Andersson was keen to stress that his team are not looking further ahead and are instead hoping to be at their personal best for this exciting clash.
“It’s a situation again where we have to reach our personal best, I know I keep on repeating it but I think it’s a very good description on what is needed from us both as individuals and as a team,” the Sweden head coach said. “We need to reach our absolute highest level, only then we will have the chance to beat Switzerland as well.”
Sweden would definitely look to do just that but they have a setback to overcome with the experienced Sebastian Larsson missing the game due to suspension. Genoa’s Oscar Hiljemark would be an able replacement for Larsson and the Swedes would hope he can deliver.
Predicted line-up (4-4-2) : Robin Olsen; Mikael Lustig, Victor Lindelöf, Andreas Granqvist, Ludwig Augustinsson; Viktor Claesson, Oscar Hiljemark, Albin Ekdal, Emil Forsberg; Marcus Berg, Ola Toivonen
Switzerland will be without centre-back Fabian Schar and right-back and captain Stephan Lichtsteiner, with both players suspended due to the accumulation of yellow cards.
As a result, former Arsenal central defender Johan Djourou is expected to replace Schar, while Michael Lang is expected to come in for the Swiss skipper and fill in at the right-back position. It would be interesting to see how the Swiss can deal with the loss of two key players.
Predicted line-up (4-2-3-1): Yann Sommer; Michael Lang, Johan Djourou, Manuel Akanji, Ricardo Rodriguez; Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka; Xherdan Shaqiri, Blerim Dzemaili, Steven Zuber; Josip Drmic
Expect a close game which might go into extra time. With both teams coming into the match hoping to progress, we might be in for a classic. Sweden would look to use their physical strength while the Swiss would depend on their wingers to provide the spark.
Both sides should score but the game might well be decided by the key absentees for the Swiss. The loss of their captain Lichtsteiner and defender Schar might be too hard to overcome and Sweden would be looking to make the most of this opportunity to go through. A hard-fought 2-1 victory for Sweden in extra time would be a safe bet.
Prediction: Sweden 2-1 Switzerland