Sweden vs. Switzerland
Tuesday’s first match is surprising Group F winner Sweden against Group E runner-up Switzerland.
The biggest surprise of Group F came in Germany failing to advance, but arguably the second biggest surprise was Sweden winning the group. Even though Sweden lacks a star on its team, this team shows no glaring weaknesses. The name Sweden fans will point to as the leader of the group is Emil Forsberg, a midfielder essential to Sweden’s attack. Forsberg is facing a favorable matchup in 34-year-old right back Stephan Lichtsteiner and will undoubtedly be chomping at the bit to get his first goal of the World Cup.
Aside from Forsberg, Sweden’s roster does not feature any high-profile names, but it has prided itself on sitting back and having an outstanding counterpunch (just ask Toni Kroos about that). Switzerland has shown it can possess the ball, but not on the same level as Germany or Mexico. As a result, Sweden will enter this match with confidence knowing Switzerland’s holding midfielders must be disciplined enough to not make mistakes.
The Swiss side arrives at this matchup having escaped Group E with a win and two draws, one to group winner Brazil. Switzerland’s group has its fair share of high-profile names, most notably midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri and defender Ricardo Rodríguez. Additionally, Switzerland’s attack is very balanced, as evidenced by five different players scoring its five goals. Moreover, Switzerland brings an eight-game unbeaten streak into this match on the international level.
A comeback victory against Serbia undoubtedly propelled the Swiss into the knockouts. For Switzerland to win, Granit Xhaka will need to play his best game of the tournament. Switzerland will rely on him to contribute to the counter-attack and limit his mistakes to prevent Sweden from grabbing goals. If Xhaka can accomplish this, Switzerland will be able to effectively possess the ball and limit Sweden’s offensive prowess.
Matchup to Watch – Emil Forsberg vs. Stephan Lichtsteiner
As referenced earlier, Forsberg is still looking for his first goal of the World Cup and the matchup against Lichtsteiner gives him his best chance. The 34-year-old right back can be subject to defensive lapses at times, and Sweden must be conscious of Forsberg’s matchup.
Similar to Xhaka, Lichtsteiner will have to limit his defensive mishaps and be cognizant of moving too far forward. Switzerland’s coaching staff will obviously be aware of Sweden’s strategy, but defensive discipline is a must on all fronts, especially for Lichtsteiner.
Prediction – Sweden 1, Switzerland 1 (Switzerland advances on PKs)
This matchup is pretty even when it comes to the two sides, and I think we’ll see that on Tuesday. Switzerland will dominate possession, but it’s hard to see a scenario where they don’t give up at least one goal. However, expect Switzerland to extend its unbeaten streak to nine after a win in extra time. Shaqiri will lead the way offensively and send the Swiss to the quarterfinals.