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Nothing can be taken for granted in soccer, as Argentina and Belgium will attest after their shock defeats by Saudi Arabia and Morocco respectively. Having said that, few expect Cameroon to beat Brazil on Friday. Provided there is no upset at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, the winner of this match is guaranteed to reach the last 16 of World Cup 2022.
Whereas a draw would be enough for Switzerland, Serbia must collect all three points - something they have not yet done in Qatar. Their first encounter was a 2-0 loss to Brazil. There were positives to take from their display, especially in the first half, but the Selecao’s superior quality ultimately made the difference.
More disappointing were events on matchday two. Serbia were 3-1 up against Cameroon yet they failed to win. Dragan Stojkovic’s side played some marvelous attacking soccer - their third goal was arguably the best of the tournament so far - but were undone by some incredibly lax defensive work. If they do not go through, that is the match they will look back on with regret.
Still, Serbia are not out of it yet. In two similar matches earlier this week, the sides that needed the win (Senegal and the USA) got the better of opponents for whom a draw would have been sufficient (Ecuador and Iran). That suggests the clarity provided by a scenario where only one outcome is good enough can sometimes work to a team’s advantage.
However, Serbia will need to be much cannier against a mature and measured Switzerland side. At 3-1 up against Cameroon, they really should have seen the game out. It is admirable that Stojkovic’s men play with an attack-minded philosophy, but they must be better organized without the ball here. If not, the Serbia squad will be traveling back home over the weekend.
Soccer fans have enjoyed some thrilling contests in the group stage of this competition. The two games involving Switzerland are not among them. A forgettable 1-0 victory over Cameroon on matchday one was followed by a loss to Brazil by the same scoreline on Monday. As such, Murat Yakin’s men still have work to do.
Switzerland certainly made Brazil work for their three points last time out. It was not until the 83rd minute that they finally made the breakthrough, and even then it took a moment of magic from Casemiro for the Selecao to finally break Switzerland’s stubborn resistance. Yet for all that the underdogs did not give up many chances, they barely created any either.
One thing in Switzerland’s favor is their recent tournament experience. This is a settled side, the key members of which have been together for a while now. In the last two World Cups and the last two European Championships, the Swiss have got out of the group. They even reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, eliminating France in the last 16.
Switzerland are a balanced side with players who possess a useful blend of technical ability and tactical understanding. Defensively, they are tough to break down. But it would be risky for them to simply sit back against Serbia. In fact, that could be a recipe for disaster given their opponents’ attacking quality.
At the same time, there is no need for Switzerland to over-commit bodies to the attack - and that is not really their style either. Yakin, you feel, would not be too unhappy if the score was 0-0 at half-time.
However, the Switzerland boss may be disappointed. Both teams will look to impose themselves on the game. Serbia will aim to quicken the tempo and stretch out their opponents. Switzerland will try to play with patience and keep safe possession in the middle third.
At some point, though, Serbia will need to go for it. And given Stojkovic’s penchant for attacking soccer, they may do so sooner rather than later. The wing-backs will push forward and swing crosses into the box, with Aleksandar Mitrovic one of the biggest aerial threats at this World Cup.
Switzerland will need to ensure they offer some sort of threat going the other way. That would make Serbia wary of leaving room in behind their backline. Breel Embolo’s speed should help in that regard. His ability to sprint into space could compel the Serbia defenders to drop deeper.
Switzerland will not want to be in a situation where they are chasing an equalizer, so they will try to avoid falling behind. But against a Serbia side that loves to attack and often gives up space in return, it is hard to envisage this being a low-scoring affair - despite the high-stakes nature of it. Back over 2.5 goals in this decisive Group G concluder.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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