Spain welcomed Switzerland to Villareal’s Estadio de la Ceramica in a friendly game as the two teams prepare to take part in the upcoming World Cup in Russia, 11 days before the start of the tournament.
Switzerland will open their involvement on June 17, when they face Brazil – one of the teams expected to fight for the title. They will also play Serbia on June 22, and Costa Rica five days later as the four teams battle to go through Group E and into the knockout stages. Spain on the other hand are among the favorites themselves. They’ve been drawn to play in Group B against European champions Portugal on June 15, Iran June 20, and Morocco on June 25.
There is usually a lot of experimenting in friendly games, but so close to the actual tournament, the two coaches, Julen Lopetegui and Vladimir Petković, will want to be as close to having a settled team as possible. Having said that, there were some notable absentees on both sides. Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets both missed out for Spain, while Dani Carvajal faces a race against time to recover from injury in time for the World Cup. Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka is in the same situation for Switzerland.
Lopetegui went with a 4-3-3 formation. David De Gea in goal; Alvaro Odriozola, Gerard Pique, Cezar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba were the back four. Koke acted as the midfield anchor between Thiago Alcantara and Andres Iniesta. Diego Costa led the attack supported by Iago Aspas and David Silva.
Petković however opted for a 4-2-3-1. Yann Sommer in goal, Ricardo Rodriguez, Manuel Akanji, Fabian Schaer and Stefan Lichtsteiner at the back, Denis Zakaria and Valon Behrami as the deep-lying midfielders, while the trio of Steven Zuber, Blerim Dzemaili and Xherdan Shaqiri played behind Haris Šeferović as the lone striker.
The First Half
Spain absolutely dominated this game from start to finish. They controlled possession, imposed their game on their opponents without much difficulty and kept creating chances throughout the contest. Iniesta, Silva and Diego Costa up front were constantly making life hard for the Swiss defenders.
Having two such silky players like Silva and Iniesta playing on the same side of the pitch is a huge advantage. Both generally midfielders capable of efficiently operating as wide forwards, they kept interchanging positions and confusing the opposition back line. Costa often made diagonal runs to that side offering an outlet under pressure, while the overlapping runs of Alba added another dimension to the attacking scheme.
However, such a concept has its downside too. On that side, Switzerland had Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner, and while they were constantly challenged at the back, they would occasionally break through. Spain themselves then had trouble as neither Iniesta nor Silva have enough pace to make any kind of defensive contribution, and Alba got caught out of position every time. Azpilicueta had to be fully alert, and Thiago often helped him in closing down that space.
Even though the game was friendly, there was no holding back in tackles by either team. And even though Spain could have easily scored more, the only goal of the half came in the 29th minute when Odriozola caught an excellent volley from the edge of the box and sent it into the far bottom corner, past Sommer and into the net to give the home team the lead.
The Second Half
As is often the case with international friendlies, the second half saw many changes to the lineups and formations. But the flow of the game wasn’t disturbed at all. Spain and their head coach Lopetegui are really spoilt for choice when it comes to the quality of the players at their disposal. It’s a great luxury for them to be able to withdraw the likes of Iniesta, Silva and Aspas and bring on Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez and Saul Niguez. The team maybe went down in average age, but not much in quality.
One more thing Spain have is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but one wouldn’t have thought so based on this game. David De Gea was mostly unchallenged, and the one time when he had a save to make, he messed it up.
Switzerland were conducting one of their rare attacks in the 62nd minute when substitute Breel Embolo opened up some space for Lichtsteiner to come into the box and shoot. The shot was taken with Lichsteiner’s weaker left foot and it really should have been easy work for De Gea, but the Manchester United man dropped the ball from his hands straight into the path of the incoming Rodriguez on the far post for a tap-in and the score was level.
Spain played on much the same as before, pushing Switzerland back, constantly creating chances and occasionally producing brilliant pieces of individual skill, but the visitors held on to the end.
Even though there were no points to be won in this game, Switzerland will be pleased to end the game against one of the World Cup favorites undefeated. On the other hand, Spain will also be pleased with the performance and the level of quality on show, and maybe even that the horrible mistake from De Gea came now, when it doesn’t count, as opposed to in the actual tournament.
SPAIN: De Gea, Odriozola (70′ Nacho), Pique, Azpilicueta, Alba (78′ Monreal), Koke, Thiago, Iniesta (55′ Saul), Aspas (46′ L. Vazquez), D. Silva (60′ Asensio), D. Costa (60′ Rodrigo).
SWITZERLAND: Sommer, Rodriguez (78′ Moubandje), Akanji, Schaer (46′ Djourou), Lichtsteiner (62′ Lang), Zakaria, Behrami (62′ Fernandes), Zuber, Dzemaili (46′ Embolo), Shaqiri, Šeferović (46′ Drmić).
GOALS: Odriozola 29′, Rodriguez 62′.
YELLOW CARDS: Saul 57′, Zuber 90′.
RED CARDS: None.
REFEREE: István Kovács (Romania).
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