Deprived of four holders including its playing master Granit Xhaka, Switzerland is facing a very difficult task Sunday in Basel against Italy. But a surprise against the European champion would put it in a very favorable position.
Only the first in this Group C of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers will qualify directly for Qatar. The challenge is great, but it can allow Murat Yakin to enter in the best possible way in his new managerial clothes, he who will make his official debut at the Parc Saint-Jacques at the head of the team. Swiss.
The Italian obstacle seems a little less insurmountable since the Transalpines were held in check (1-1) Thursday at home in Florence by Bulgaria, an opponent that Switzerland went to beat 3-1 in the opening of these qualifications, in March. Under the Petkovic era.
In the event of victory on Sunday, the national team would take a fairly important step towards direct qualification, given the rather average level of the other three teams (Bulgaria, Lithuania, Northern Ireland).
Murat Yakin, however, could have wished for more favorable circumstances for his first official meeting. The package of Granit Xhaka, placed in isolation after catching the covid, is a very hard blow.
The captain, who tested positive on Wednesday, will miss both the clash against Italy and Wednesday’s game in Belfast against Northern Ireland. His absence comes on top of those of Shaqiri and Embolo, short of preparation, who left the team on Tuesday. To make matters worse, Mbabu, injured, is also unavailable, while Freuler will be suspended due to his expulsion during the quarter-final of the Euro against Spain.
The friendly victory against Greece on Wednesday (2-1), in front of 3,500 spectators in Basel, will hardly have contributed to warming the atmosphere in the Swiss camp. Two months after the euphoria born of the victory against France in the round of 16 of the Euro, the Swiss eleven appear less conquering. Expectations seem to have dropped.
Murat Yakin in any case tries not to increase the pressure. His words of the last days are sober: “We will see what happens by Sunday and we will do our best,” said the Balois after the victory against the Greeks.
Defender Nico Elvedi said “if the team shows courage, it can upset Italy”. Courage, it will take, because the defeat without appeal (3-0) in the group stage of the Euro against the same Italians, in Rome, is remembered. Today, the selection, in public at least, is careful not to speak of revenge. Keeping a low profile, while remaining focused, seems to be the watchword on the Swiss side.
Murat Yakin is a fine tactician. He proved it at the head of FC Basel, with whom he won two victories against José Mourinho’s Chelsea in the Champions League. But its room for maneuver appears limited.
Which experienced player can he line up to stop Insigne, Chiesa & Cie? Who is sharp enough to break the rhythm of a Jorginho or a Verratti? Or, which players have enough talent to win against Bonucci or Chiellini?
The answers will not be served on a silver platter. The depth of the bench is lacking to compensate for the four absences of mark, not to mention that the attack will be deprived of the joker Gavranovic, to which is added the lack of playing time of Seferovic.
It had been a long time since Switzerland had been so helpless before an official match. She will have to rely on her second guard, along with Zakaria, Sow, Steffen and Vargas, to pull the chestnuts out of the fire.
The numbers bear witness to the difficulty of the task: these four men together have fewer selections (85) than Xhaka (98) or Shaqiri (96) alone.
In addition, Xhaka, Freuler, Shaqiri and Embolo scored 47 goals for the Swiss team. Zakaria, Sow, Steffen and Vargas only put in five … A double deficit, therefore, in terms of experience and efficiency.
More than ever, the Swiss will have to show esprit de corps and fighting spirit, two qualities that they had sorely missed against the Italians at the Euro. They will have to run more than their opponent. Rediscover, as Elvedi noted, the team spirit that had animated them against France.