France put on a stunning show as the Swiss were steamrollered by Karim Benzema, Oliver Giroud, et al
Switzerland's task in the final game depends on what happens between Honduras and Ecuador later tonight. But France are effectively through as a result of that performance: even if they lose their final game, and two other teams reach six points, their goal difference should be their pal. That was a stunningly entertaining match, with France superlative. They went to sleep a bit towards the end, letting in a couple that'll give the Swiss succour going into their game against Ecuador. But Friday 20 June
1958 2014 has been a good day for them. A statement's been made by free-scoring France.
The referee blows his whistle. And he's the Clive Thomas de nos jours, because a split second later, Benzema is lashing a first-time conversion of a right-wing cross into the top left from the edge of the area! He races off to celebrate France's sixth goal, but it won't count! Some of the home support will be nodding wryly as they recall Thomas ruling out Zico's header against Sweden in 1978. But this doesn't cost anyone a win. What a performance by France! What a performance by Switzerland as well, but not necessarily in the same way.
90 min +1: A stat. The number of you who have emailed in with the "Swiss defence like Swiss cheese - full of holes" gag: 897. But it's a good gag. I'm not knocking it.
90 min: There will be three added minutes of this. If their 1954 quarter final against Austria is any sort of benchmark, Switzerland have enough time to scramble a draw here. It's on!
89 min: Cabaye is booked for a totally pointless hack on Dzemaili's ankles. He was booked in the first match against Honduras, and will now miss the Ecuador game. It's almost as if he did it on purpose to get out of the groups with a clean slate.
Inler chips a ball down the inside-right channel. Xhaka springs a poor French offside trap, Koscielny sleeping, and lashes a stunning first-time effort into the bottom-right!
The comeback's on!
86 min: Shaqiri has a whack from distance. It's heading towards the bottom corner from 25 yards, but Lloris is behind it all the way.
84 min: Switzerland on the front foot at last. Lichtsteiner sent into space down the right. His low, dangerous cross is bundled out by Koscielny. The corner comes to naught. Everyone would take the final whistle right now. Anyway, Rob Marriott (69 min) and Julia Kite (76 min) have got Mac Millings' creative juices flowing: "In light of their ignominious early exit, here's my England All-Time World Cup Failure XI. I didn't pick many defenders. Seemed appropriate.
82 min: France replace Valbuena with Griezmann.
Suddenly things don't look so bad for the Swiss. Still very bad, but not quite so bad. A free kick 30 yards out. Dzemaili forces a low shot through a pathetic three-man wall, Benzema jumping out of the way a little, and it zips into the bottom left! No clean sheet for Lloris, who was caught sleeping a little there.
79 min: Switzerland string a few passes around the middle of the park. They're going nowhere, but that's not really the point. We're a little bit closer to the point at which they can scuttle off into the changing room and lick their wounds. This is a mauling. "Is it too late to unsign Senderos?" wonders Villa fan TW Adams (49 mins), checking the conditions on the back of his receipt.
76 min: Switzerland are in tatters. Ruins. Matuidi and Benzema both have fierce strikes at goal from close range, only to be denied by ludicrously good blocks from desperate Swiss bodies. This is an astonishingly good performance by France. "It's been a rough 24 hours for England," concludes Julia Kite.
75 min: Dzemaili hacks Matruidi to the ground, a result of 60 seconds' worth of oles! from the crowd.
Direct brilliance from France. Inler cedes possession in the middle of the park. The white shirts stream forward. The ball's shuttled to Benzema on the edge of the D from the left. He keeps it going to the right, where Sissoko is romping down the channel. He meets the ball first time, and flicks an extravagant effort into the bottom left. That's picture perfect!
72 min: Anything could happen to Switzerland now, who are all over the shop at the back. A simple Cabaye ball down the left, and Evra is sprung clear into the area. He looks to flick into the top right with his left peg, but doesn't connect properly.
71 min: A corner down the left for Switzerland, after Varane deals with a free kick coming in from the other wing. Switzerland find the head of Xhaka, not for the first time this evening. His header squirts wide right of the goal.
69 min: Drmic comes on for Seferovic. "How often in recent years have England gone to a major tournament in a state of national panic regarding the fitness of Rooney or Beckham or Owen or whoever?" asks Rob Marriott. "And here are France, without their best player, without one of the best players in the world indeed, and they're ruddy brilliant. I think people here possibly fuss too much."
Brilliant from France. Pogba, 40 yards out down the inside right, flicks a pass with the outside of his boot to release Benzema into the area. The striker, running down the channel and facing away from goal, twists and guides an instant strike under the sprawled Benaglio and into the net. Wonderful football - but embarrassing for Senderos, who attempted to intercept with a high kick and only connected with a therm of hot air.
66 min: A limping Sakho, suffering from some sort of ailment of the leg, is replaced by Koscielny.
65 min: Shaqiri skedaddles down the right wing and reaches the byline. He clips a cross over a stranded Debuchy and to the feet of Mehmedi, six yards out. He should score, but Lloris comes off his line like lightning to put him off, and the Swiss scoops over. Magnificent keeping.
63 min: Oh Matt Cast (62 min)! If you believe emails published in this tatty old report have some sort of chaos-theory effect on a match happening half a globe away, then it appears you've just done for Giroud. He's been hooked for Pogba.
62 min: Mehmedi curls a ball into the French area from the left. It's only six inches over Seferovic's head at the far post. It's not much, but it's something for the Swiss. "Could Andrew Gerrard (15 min) cast aspersions on Giroud before every France match, please?" begs Matt Cast. "It's working out pretty well so far."
60 min: France play a game of After You, Claude, in the Swiss area. The ball's shifted left and then right, Giroud, Benzema and Valbuena failing to decide who'll take the shot. Eventually Benzema lumps it goalwards from a central position on the edge of the area. It balloons out of play, off a Swiss back. The corner's wasted. The French fans don't care, they're making a hell of a racket anyway.
58 min: Dzemaili, 30 yards out, just to the left of centre. He's picking up a pass coming in from the left wing. One touch inside, a drop of the shoulder, and he's sending a rising shot inches wide and high of the top-left corner. Lloris, standing stock still, is kidding on he had that covered. And he may well have. But if so it was some snap judgement to leave that alone, because it was very close.
55 min: Giroud's having a very good game. He picks up possession 25 yards out, turns, and batters a low shot wide right of the Swiss goal.
54 min: Shaqiri is trying his level best to get something going for the Swiss. He sashays away from Sissoko down the inside-left channel, but upon reaching the edge of the area, drags a terrible shot miles wide right of the post. "I have never seen Sakho run so fast," notes Ian Copestake. "He does seem to find extra mph playing for his national side. For Liverpool he is immense but more as a liner docked in the Mersey is immense."
52 min: Shaqiri dances down the left wing and draws a foul from Sissoko. Free kick, which is effectively a corner. The winger gets it up and whips one to the near post, where Matuidi puts the ball behind for a corner. The resulting set piece is met by Xhaka, who heads high and wide.
51 min: The Swiss are seeing a lot of the ball, and the French, perhaps thinking the job is already done, seem quite happy to let them have it and play a containing game.
49 min: News on the stricken Swiss defender Von Bergen. He's in hospital, getting a broken cheekbone seen to. He also may have a problem with his eye socket, so they're checking that out. Anyway, on to his replacement tonight. "As a Villa fan, I'm interested in how Senderos is doing," writes TW Adams. "Is he even on the pitch?" Yes sir, oh yes he's on the pitch. "I see the Swiss have let in three in 45 minutes. I have a feeling he'll fit right in at Villa Park."
47 min: And this is a determined start to the half by the Swiss, who may have been given some beneficial advice in short, sharp burst by Ottmar Hitzfeld at half time. Mehmedi bombs down the left, and is stopped in his tracks by a majestic tackle from Sakho. French fans will have had their hearts in their mouths there, because as Liverpool fans will know, the big man's got a habit of mistiming those quite spectacularly on occasion.
And we're off again! Switzerland have made a change: Dzemaili has come on for Behrami. The new man lays off on the edge of the French D, allowing Seferovic to lamp a shot over the bar from the edge of the area.
Half-time entertainment: It's 1958 again! And this is about as European as it gets, even if it is a performance by an American musician.
Benzema nicks the ball off Inler in the middle of the park, races down the left channel, and looks for the bottom right from 20 yards. But his shot is weak and saved. And that's that for the first 45 minutes. Technically we're at the halfway mark, but of course we know this is already over. Didier Deschamps' side have indeed been scoring like it's 1958 all over again. You can't really blame the Swiss too much, either, they've been steamrollered.
43 min: This is in danger of turning into a rout. Valbuena has another dig, this time from the edge of the area, latching onto a low cross from the left and battering it towards the bottom right. Benaglio does extremely well to parry. This is without question the most impressive half of football by any team in this 2014 World Cup so far, with the possible exception of the Dutch clipping Spain repeatedly around the lug last weekend.
Sakho heads clear. Varane rakes a long pass along the ground down the left. Giroud is released into acres. He romps into the box and rolls the ball across towards Valbuena, who rams a shot home at the far post. That was a stunning counter-attack! This game is over.
39 min: Mehmedi slips a little pass down the left wing to release Shaqiri into the area. For a second he looks like getting into position to shoot or cross, but he's quickly surrounded by white shirts. It'll be a corner. From which ...
38 min: Seferovic looks to slide the busy Shaqiri into the French area down the left, but Debuchy steps in to intercept. Poor Switzerland just don't know what's hit them. They've had a good go at trying to respond, but they're not seriously troubling France, that Behrami-Shaqiri double shot apart.
36 min: Shaqiri tries to get something going for Switzerland down the left. He drifts inside and attempts to turn on the burners down the channel, but Varane is quickly across to block.
34 min: Benzema's penalty wasn't the best. He was looking for the bottom-left corner, but wasn't anywhere near finding it.
32 min: BENZEMA MISSES! AND THEN CABAYE HITS THE CROSSBAR WITH A VOLLEY FROM SIX YARDS, WHEN ATTEMPTING TO CONVERT THE REBOUND INTO AN EMPTY NET! Probably no need for all those caps, but they've done the job. Good save from Benaglio, low to his right, is all that's left to say. How on earth are France not 3-0 up?
31 min: PENALTY TO FRANCE! Benzema goes on a dribble into the Swiss area down the left. Djourou sticks out a clumsy leg, needlessly let it be said. And the referee's pointing at the spot!
30 min: It was nearly 3-0; now it's nearly 2-1. Bahrami takes a stride or two down the centre of the park, then lashes a low shot towards the bottom-left corner. It's a brilliant effort, and Lloris can only parry out to the left. Shaqiri takes a touch and batters a shot across the goal, inches wide of the right post. Seferovic can't slide in at the far post to convert.
29 min: Giroud turns Senderos, 20 yards out, then blooters a ball towards the top-left corner. It's only just over the bar. The Swiss defender was all over the shop there.
27 min: Shaquri with a free kick for the Swiss down the right, level with the edge of the penalty area. He swings it in. France clear, though not particularly well. Mehmedi, on the edge of the box, hammers a shot into the floor which balloons up and over the French back line. It comes back down at the feet of Behrami, level with the right-hand post, six yards out. He smashes the ball past Lloris, and races off to celebrate, but the linesman puts a stop to his gallop with an offside flag. The correct decision; there was a couple of yards in it, the French back line having come out with extreme purpose, as one.
25 min: France are going for the killer blow here. Benzema embarks on a determined skitter down the inside left channel. He looks to thread a low shot into the bottom right. It's on target, and not without pace, but Benaglio gets down well to smother.
22 min: Turns out there were 13 seconds between the goals. Thirteen seconds! If Matuidi's goal owed a little to some generous goalkeeping, it was still a cracking finish. And as for Giroud's header. Man! It was a staggering leap over Behrami, and what a connection he made with the ball! It quickly looped up and back down, before whistling into the top right. Benaglio managed to get fingers on it, but there was no chance of stopping it.
20 min: Switzerland are in shock. Valbuena with a free kick down the left. He whips it into the area. Benzema attempts to flick the ball over the outrushing Benaglio and into the top right, but he overcooks it and the effort flies over the bar. And up goes the flag: he was offside anyway. What a sudden surge by France this has been! This game was pootling along, nothing happening, and suddenly it's in danger of being done and dusted already, unless the Swiss get their act together quickly!
The Swiss lose the ball straight from the kick off. Benzema sets France in motion downfield. The ball's slid out to Matuidi down the inside-left channel. He takes a stride into the box, and larrups a low shot into the bottom left! What a finish, though you have to question Benaglio's keeping there, near post and all that.
What a header by Giroud! A corner from the right. It's fizzed onto the head of the Arsenal striker, on the penalty spot. He powers it into the top right, with men on the line! There was no stopping that!
15 min: France seeing a lot of the ball, but doing very little with it right now. Giroud, his back to goal down the right wing, tries to hook a pass over his shoulder for the rampaging Debuchy, but the ball's too heavy. "Senderos and Djourou versus Giroud?" begins science's Andrew Gerrard. "It will be interesting to see what happens when a stoppable force meets two moveable objects."
13 min: The game sputters to life after a long lull in the wake of Von Bergen's injury. Cabaye has a whack from 20 yards. Three points in rugby union, but no good here.
9 min: In fact, it was the nose Von Bergen copped it in. He's not going to be able to continue, blood seeping from his stunned phizog. He looks very queasy indeed. He stumbles off the field, to be replaced by Senderos. At least that stoppage for injury hasn't ruined this match's momentum, for there wasn't any.
7 min: Giroud, competing for a high ball, toe-punts Von Bergen in the teeth. If that happened in a Warner Bros. cartoon, his mouth would now look like a piano keyboard, and play Merrily We Roll Along whenever he smiled. Giroud's very lucky not to get a booking for that. It wasn't deliberate, but it was out of control and dangerous.
6 min: Benzema appears to have turned up to this match, indeed this World Cup, in form. He's already got two goals in his 2014 bag. Now he's looking for a third, and nearly gets it, dropping a shoulder down the inside-left channel, taking a step inside, and curling a shot towards the top-right corner. He's got Benaglio beaten all ends up, but the ball flies to the right of the post. Only just. A fine effort.
4 min: Benzema, just to the left of the centre circle, sprays a gorgeous diagonal ball to the right side, where Debuchy threatens to break into the box. He can't quite control the raking pass, and Von Bergen is able to intercept and clear. But that was a lovely crossfield rake.
2 min: Both sides take the opportunity to have a wee stroke of the ball. Everyone just warming up, finding their feet.
And we're off! Switzerland get the ball rolling. A rare old atmosphere, but we should be taking that as read by now. Mehmedi attempts a shot from 25 yards down the left, but the ball's blocked by Varane before it passes the 24 Yards To Go signpost.
The teams are out! France in white shirts instead of their beautiful blue, for some reason. The Swiss in radiant red. Time for the anthems. The Swiss national jingle is a beaut.
Even its title, the Swiss Psalm, is delightful, because like salsa, people like to say it. People like to say Swiss Psalm.
It's a cheery waltz, a hymn to
tax avoidance God. "Pray, free Swiss, pray! For you feel and understand / That he dwelleth in this land!" An elaborate theatrical flourish at the end, by the way, which could confuse the older listener into thinking the curtain was about to go up on one of Lew Grade's Sunday night ATV spectaculars. The French one, meanwhile, is simply the greatest tune ever written, as anyone who has seen Casablanca will attest. No more need be said. Up you get.
Switzerland reward their matchwinner against Ecuador, Haris Seferovic, with a starting place: Benaglio, Lichtsteiner, Djourou, von Bergen, Rodriguez, Behrami, Inler, Shaqiri, Xhaka, Mehmedi, Seferovic.
Subs: Sommer, Ziegler, Senderos, Lang, Barnetta, Stocker, Dzemaili, Fernandes, Gavranovic, Drmic, Schar, Burki.
France go with two up front, Paul Pogba dropping to the bench: Lloris, Debuchy, Varane, Sakho, Evra, Sissoko, Cabaye, Matuidi, Valbuena, Giroud, Benzema.
Subs: Ruffier, Cabella, Griezmann, Mavuba, Mangala, Sagna, Digne, Pogba, Remy, Koscielny, Schneiderlin, Landreau.
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Holland)
It surely won't be out of spite or schadenfreude, but supporters of L'Equipe Tricolore will be fairly content with the news that England have been knocked out in the first round. That means there's a little something of 1958 in the air. That was the last time England found themselves packed off on the first boat home, and coincidentally it was a very good year for the French. Just Fontaine scored a hat-trick in their opening game at the finals in Sweden against Paraguay, as France won 7-3, and didn't stop. Two more against Yugoslavia, another against Scotland, two against Northern Ireland, another against Brazil, and finally four against deposed champions West Germany in the third-place final. Thirteen goals in a finals, a record never to be beaten. Albert Batteux's team ☛☛☛ also starring Raymond Kopa!!! ☚☚☚ could well have reached the final had Vava of Brazil not disabled captain Bob Jonquet in the semi with an appalling act of thuggery. Ah, l'esprit de 1958 dans l'air! Parfait!
The Swiss may prefer to broaden this out to a more general 1950s vibe. A little extrapolation, and we're back to 1954, when Switzerland hosted the tournament, and got through a group containing both England and Italy, thrashing the latter 4-1 to make it to the quarters. It's the furthest they've ever got in a World Cup. Those of us now conditioned to the Swiss boring fans to impotent tears during the knockout stages of major international tournaments might be surprised at how that 1954 quarter-final panned out. The match ended 7-5 (!!!) to Austria, the highest-scoring game in World Cup history. But the goals tally only tells the half of it.
The other half of it: The game was goalless after the first quarter of an hour. At the 18-minute mark, it was 3-0 to Switzerland. Within ten minutes, Austria had pulled it back to 3-3. By 34 minutes, Austria were 5-3 ahead. By half-time it was 5-4, the Swiss having pulled a goal back, Austria having missed a penalty. The reason for this madness? The heat in Lausanne, which was nudging 105°F in the shade. Players became affected by sunstroke: by all accounts, Swiss captain Roger Bocquet spent the half-time interval congratulating his team for holding onto their 3-0 lead. The scoring continued apace in the second half. Austria went 6-4 up. The Swiss pulled another goal back. Austria defender, a certain Ernst Happel, nearly put through his own net to make it 6-6, but his team-mate Erich Probst would wrap up the scoring on 77 minutes in Austria's favour: 7-5. (A footnote: Bocquet, stricken by sunstroke like many other players that day, was later found to be also suffering from a brain tumour, which he happily fully recovered from after surgery.)
What were the players doing for those final 13 minutes, I wonder? No goals, and in front of a paying public, too. What a disgrace.
Anyway, the Swiss were quite good that year, as France were four years on. So can the France and Switzerland teams of 2014 reach these respective giddy heights? We can only hope. But these are two sides with their dander up. This is the best, and most exciting, Swiss team in a generation, with Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri very much in vogue. They won their opening match against Ecuador with a dramatic last-kick smash and grab. France, meanwhile, are full of star names on the up - Paul Pogba the breakout character on the international stage - and have just battered a miserable Honduras team 3-0. On the evidence so far, you'd expect these two teams to make it to the second round, and with that in mind today's match is crucial, because chances are the losers will face Argentina in the round of 16, and the winners won't.
It promises to be a belter. C'est sur! It's on!
Today's temperature: A mere 82°F, thankfully.
Kick off: 8pm in London; 4pm in Salvador, Bahia; 9pm in Paris; 9pm in Geneva.