Switzerland pulled off a brilliant comeback to beat Serbia 2-1 on Friday. The Hard Tackle looks at three players who made a serious impact on the game.
Switzerland came from a goal behind to beat fellow European nation Serbia 2-1 in their second Group H encounter of the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Kaliningrad Stadium.
Serbia got off to a blistering start as striker Aleksandar Mitrovic handed them a lead just five minutes into the game. Switzerland came back strongly from the early setback but had to wait till the 52nd minute for the equalizer when midfielder Granit Xhaka scored from a sensational strike to make it 1-1.
And when it seemed like the game was heading towards a draw, Swiss talisman Xherdan Shaqiri found the back of the net in the injury time to launch his team to an impressive victory. The result saw Switzerland move into second place in Group H standings, level on points with leaders Brazil. And here we pick out three players who stood out the most in the game on Friday.
The 23-year-old Newcastle United striker was Serbia’s main man during their successful qualifying campaign, but having failed to make much of an impact in their opener against Costa Rica, one could see that he was intent on making a mark on Friday.
And it did not take him long to do so, as he forced Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer into a fine stop before he went on to open the scoring with a fantastic headed effort. It was Mitrovic’s 15th goal for the Eagles in his last 18 starts, highlighting the importance that he carries for this team.
The striker continued to pose a serious threat at the top, with his strength and physicality and his aerial prowess causing all sorts of problems for the Swiss backline, but he could not add to his tally on the day. Nonetheless, it was a very good display from the centre-forward, one that will have done his confidence a world of good, heading into the decider against Brazil.
The Arsenal midfield mainstay was once again the linchpin for Switzerland on Friday as everything that Vladimir Petkovic’s side conjured up in the attacking half of the field went through him. Xhaka made a total of 101 touches in the game – the most by any player who featured and went on to make 91 passes, once again the highest tally on the day, while also making a couple of key tackles and interceptions.
He capped off his efficient display in the middle of the park with one of the finest goals of the tournament so far. In the 52nd minute, a blocked shot from Shaqiri fell towards the 25-year-old and he unleashed a screamer of an effort from 25 yards out, leaving Serbian stopper Vladimir Stojkovic with no chance.
Pace, power, precision – Xhaka’s shot had everything and crucially, it brought Switzerland back into the game, setting things up for their late winning goal.
The 26-year-old, who is widely regarded as a talented but highly inconsistent player, stepped up on the day for Switzerland, firing them to an all important victory with the winning goal in the dying embers of the game.
Shaqiri, who reportedly is a transfer target for Liverpool, started off slowly, but grew into it with time and posed a threat to the Serbian backline each time he had the ball. He attempted the most dribbles on the day (7) and completed four of them successfully, the most by any player in the match.
The Stoke City attacker also got eight shots away on goal, with one of them, struck beautifully from a difficult angle, cannoning off of the woodwork in the second period.
Shaqiri then went on to clinch all three points for his team with the late goal after his intelligent run was picked out by substitute Mario Gavranovic and the 26-year-old showed his blistering pace before finding the net. Shaqiri has now been involved in 5 of Switzerland’s last 6 goals at the World Cup and showed he can be the difference maker once again.