Wed, Dec 7, 2022 4:01 AM
By GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Switzerland exited the World Cup at the round of 16 stage, just as it usually does in the modern era.
A 6-1 rout by Portugal on Tuesday left little space for feeling that progress was made, even if the squad was hit by a bout of sickness in Qatar.
Switzerland's quest to win a first World Cup knockout game since 1954 will have to wait.
EXPECTATIONS VS. PERFORMANCE
There are nations of similar soccer history and a bigger population who would be happy to trade places with Switzerland in the European pecking order.
Still, this streak of round of 16 losses starting at the 2014 World Cup gets a little harder each time for fans to accept.
Under different coaches, there was a tough 1-0 extra-time loss to Argentina eight years ago, a strangely tame 1-0 loss to Sweden last time, now a humiliation against a Portugal team made more dynamic by leaving Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench.
Swiss fans were fueled with hope after eliminating world champion France in the round of 16 at the European Championship last year.
This was a squad that knew how to navigate its path through a tournament — and the group stage in Qatar offered more evidence.
Switzerland advanced from the group stage with an efficient 1-0 win over Cameroon, a late 1-0 loss to a standout Brazil team, and a decisive 3-2 win over Serbia in a game loaded with emotional and physical stress.
On Tuesday, the Swiss did not come close to maintaining their level, not helped by a bout of colds in the camp.
Then there were the tactics of coach Murat Yakin: Switching a defensive line of four to three in the back, which was clinically exploited by Portugal's free-flowing playmakers.
“These were his choices, we have to accept them,” said playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri, whose anguished facial expressions were clear when the game was slipping away before half time at Lusail Stadium.
None of this squad need head for international retirement.
The core trio of goalkeeper Yann Sommer, midfielder and captain Granit Xhaka and playmaker Shaqiri are in their early 30s and have much to offer as team leaders.
Coach Yakin has been in the job for just 16 months and has a contract through Euro 2024.
A former center back for the national team, his instincts tend toward caution. Certainly more than his predecessor Vladimir Petkovic who oversaw that cavalier win over France last year, on penalties after a 3-3 draw.
However, Yakin’s tactical choice for his biggest test is being second-guessed at home.
A veteran of five major tournaments aged just 25, forward Breel Embolo emerged as a stronger force leading the attack. He scored two key goals and did not shirk a physical duel with Rúben Dias that the Portugal defender pushed to the limit of the rules.
Noah Okafor was used as an impact substitute in Qatar and the speedy Salzburg forward will surely improve for Euro 2024 when he will be 24.
Aged between 25 and 27 and each approaching 50 appearances, center defenders Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi, plus midfielder Denis Zakaria and Djibril Sow should all be entering prime years.
The Swiss are the clear class act in a Euro 2024 qualifying group with Israel, Romania, Kosovo, Belarus, Andorra. The top two in the standings next November advance direct to the tournament in Germany.
With 16 qualifiers from Europe instead of 13 at the expanded 2026 World Cup in North America, Switzerland should have a good chance of securing a spot to that tournament.
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