Chile 1-0 Switzerland: Chile deserve win but might regret wasting chances

June 21, 2010

The starting line-ups

A clash of two styles. Attacking v defensive, fluid v rigid, quick v slow, short passing v long ball. Chile emerge victorious, though it should have been a greater victory, and they were helped by a red card.

Chile were able to call on their star striker Humberto Suazo after injury, although he didn’t look 100% and made little impact before he was substituted at half-time. Otherwise, they lined up with the expected players for their 3-3-1-3 shape.

Switzerland brought in Valon Behrami on the right-hand side ahead of Tranquilo Barnetta, and Steve von Bergen replaced Phillipe Senderos at centre-back. Upfront, captain Alexander Frei was fit to start – although, like Suazo, he didn’t make it to the second half.

As in their first game, the Swiss lined up very narrow. They were keen to keep the gap between centre-back and full-back very narrow, because Chile love to play balls through that space. The midfield sat fairly solidly ahead of them – Gelson Fernandes was tucked in on the left, whilst Behrami got up and down the line slightly more, and helped double up with his full-back against the threat from Chile’s left.

Notably, Chile’s front three also played very narrow, up against the full-backs. Often, the wide players (today, Alexis Sanchez and Jean Beausejour) hug the touchline and create gaps in the defence for the full-backs to exploit, but today the front three played across the width of 18-yard box for most of the game. This meant that the two wing-backs, Arturo Vidal and Mauricio Isla, had the flanks to themselves, although they did look to bend their runs and duck inside when they got into the final third.

Although the Swiss continued the narrow defence as they did in the first game against Spain, they defended higher up the pitch, which may have helped the Chilean wide players, but prevented Suazo from operating too close to goal.

Chile pressing causes problems

Chile’s intense pressing high up the pitch caused Switzerland a problem all game. The Swiss centre-backs are not the most technically proficient players and found the pressure difficult whenever they won the ball back. It also interfered with their passing ability. Pressuring the opposition centre-backs is often a tactic associated with disrupting quick, neat build-up play from the back, but it can also cause havoc with teams playing long ball football. For long balls to be effective, they have to be accurate, but the Swiss defence didn’t have any time on the ball to look up and find the two strikers.

Chile's second half average positions

Chile played an incredibly high tempo game, always taking free-kicks and throw-ins immediately and passing the nearest man, so the Swiss defence were under pressure constantly. This was also an attempt to hit Switzerland before their defence and midfield had taken up the optimum positions – Spain were too slow and laboured in their build-up; Chile got into goalscoring positions much more frequently.

They also tried a few long-range shots early on – something Spain rarely did in their defeat, despite often working the ball into shooting positions on the edge of the area.

Red card gives Chile further advantage

The game was changed when Behrami was dismissed for swinging an elbow, and Ottmar Hitzfeld was forced to reorganise in a 4-4-1 shape – at first he tried putting Alexander Frei on the right, but then opted to remove him for Barnetta. Blaise Nkufo, excellent in the first game, again did a good job but found it difficult to hold the ball up with the midfield runners so far away, especially as the Swiss were forced to pass quickly from the defence because of the Chilean pressure, meaning the midfielders didn’t have time to connect with Nkufo. The veteran’s dominance in the air was also wasted, with no-one going for the flick-ons.

From then on, to use the pundits’ favourite expression, “It was like a training ground exercise – attack versus defence”. And defence very nearly prevailed. Switzerland may have lost the game, but they set a new record for the most number of minutes without conceding a goal at the World Cup final. For the second match run, their defensive positioning was excellent, and the two holding midfielders sat solidly ahead of the centre-backs, making it difficult for Mati Fernandez to get space between the lines. The wide midfielders tracked the Chilean wing-backs, and for most of the second half Chile struggled to play a killer pass.

Chile winner

By this stage, Chile had shifted their formation slightly – it remained roughly 3-3-1-3, but with the defence playing to the left-of-centre and Isla being forced to cover a large area on the right. The use of Jean Beausejour and Mark Gonzelez on the left made Chile slightly lopsided, and it was a slight surprise that they didn’t sacrifice a defender for another attacking player.

The scene for Chile's winner - although the defence was high up the pitch, the lack of pressure on the ball was probably more of a crucial factor

The Swiss eventually conceded to a goal that emerged partly because of their high defensive line – Esteban Paredes broke through, and crosses for Gonzalez to head home. But the bigger factor was tiredness – Chile are extremely fit and often outlast opponents that have eleven men, let alone opponents with only ten. The high defensive line was not the problem as such, it was more than the Swiss midfielders were so tired that they were unable to exert enough pressure on the man on the ball – the Chilean midfielders often had time and space to thread a pass through the defence. The forwards could have scored three or four, and the wastefulness in both games could come back to haunt them, with a decent chance of Chile, Switzerland and Spain all finishing on six points.


It was a fascinating game, but one spoilt slightly by a red card that decimated Switzerland. It probably didn’t change their mentality or strategy too much (a point would have been a good result for them regardless of how many players they had) but it did mean they never looked likely to break through and score themselves – apart from one golden chance wasted by Eren Derdiyok in the final minute.

Chile deserved the win and again impressed with their attacking, exciting brand of football. But just as in their first match, they scored in slightly fortunate circumstances (Gonzalez’s header was poor) and struggled to extend their advantage, despite clear superiority in both possession and territory. It would be astonishingly unlucky if they went out after recording two wins from their first two games, but they will probably need a result against Spain. A sharper-looking Suazo could make the difference.

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