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World Cup 2010: Spain beaten by stouthearted Swiss

June 16, 2010

Switzerland's Gelson Fernandes scrambles home the winner. Photograph: Michael Buholzer/Reuters

Spain 0-1 (HT 0-0) Switzerland
Fernandes 52

Venue: Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban
Att: 62,453

Switzerland provided the first major shock of the 2010 World Cup with a gutsy victory over tournament favourites Spain. Striker Gelson Fernandes bundled home the winner after the Spanish backline failed to deal with a long clearance.

Spain, coached by former Real Madrid manager Vicente Del Bosque, included five players from Barcelona’s championship winning side but left star striker Fernando Torres on the bench. Despite dominating the game his side could not score against a Swiss team who refused to roll over in the face of relentless pressure.

Winning their first opening World Cup game since 1954, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland conceded the vast majority of possession but kept the European champions at arm’s length throughout thanks to a magnificent defensive performance and tireless teamwork.

Spain utterly dominated the goalless first period, enjoying nearly 70% pf possession against the supremely organised Swiss. Xabi Alonso sprayed passes left and right like an NFL quarterback while just behind him the rangy figure of Busquets snuffed out any hint of Swiss attack. Xavi and Iniesta made a mockery of the anti-Jabulani league with some impossibly deft control and one-touch passing.

Chances to score, however, were few and far between. Spain’s best chance of the opening period fell to centre-back Gerard Pique – the closest player around to Beckenbauer in his pomp – who swivelled past a defender after being expertly found in the penalty area by Iniesta. Swiss keeper Benaglio did very well to block Pique’s shot with his knees.

Another through-ball from the excellent Iniesta released Villa but he inexplicably decided to scoop a harmless cross to the far post after he had worked himself into a great shooting position. Silva had a decent appeal for a penalty after he was bundled over by Senderos but English referee Howard Webb waved play on.

Switzerland took the lead just as it seemed certain Spain would open the scoring themselves. Vicent Del Bosque’s side came out for the second half with renewed purpose and a period of sustained pressure and a flurry of corners brought the best out of the Swiss defence.

Then, in a flash, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side took advantage of uncertainty in the Spanish ranks to score. A hopeful punt forward by Benaglio wasn’t dealt with and the former Manchester City player Gelson Fernandes was able to poke home from close range after Pique and Casillas failed to clear.

Spain were rattled, but regained their composure quickly to mount another attack. Xavi’s through-ball almost found Villa sprinting through the middle but Benaglio dived bravely at his feet to clear.

Switzerland’s mastery of their penalty area demanded the introduction of Fernando Torres and he duly arrived on the hour. Within a few minutes he had two chances to score but each time his shot flew wide. Moments later, Xabi Alonso crashed a shot against the crossbar from 20 yards.

The match was pulsating now and, incredibly, Switzerland almost extended their lead. Eren Derdiyok slalomed magnificently into the penalty area and hit shot thudded back off a post.

Torres and fellow substitute, right winger Jesus Navas, increased Spain’s direct routes of attack and it was Navas who almost leveled matters with just over ten minutes to play. His curling shot flew just wide.

The tournament favourites continued to test the Swiss rearguard but they were unable to create any more clear-cut chances. Torres had a late opportunity but his shot flew high into the stands. A generous five minutes of stoppage time proved equally fruitless and Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side clung on for a famous win.

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