Serbia v Switzerland
1624 days after meeting at the FIFA World Cup in Russia in a match that ultimately proved decisive in determining who would qualify from their group, Switzerland and Serbia will clash again in Qatar at football’s biggest tournament with another contest that will prove to be pivotal in finding out which of the two will play in the Last 16. Four years ago, Switzerland came from behind and struck a late winner through Xherdan Shaqiri that took the Swiss through after Brazil saw off the Serbians on the final matchday. This time around, it is more clear-cut as a win sends Murat Yakin’s men through. Even a draw (provided Cameroon don’t win against Brazil by a couple of goals) for die Nati brings qualification while a loss would put Serbia through at their expense.
Serbia is coming off a hugely disappointing 3-3 draw vs Cameroon where they had a 3-1 lead after 60 minutes as well as numerous good chances but somehow found a way to cough up the lead & lose 2 valuable points in the battle for a spot in the round or 16. It is now do or die for Serbia. The Eagles must beat Switzerland on Friday to advance as well as hope that Cameroon doesn’t somehow shock Brazil in the other group G encounter. This group is going to come down to the wire.The Serbians have been dealing with a lot of injury & fitness issues at the World Cup & haven’t been able to count on key players for a full 90 minutes or at all. Thankfully things seem to be turning around for coach Stojkovic & it seems like he will have a fully fit squad ready on Friday including star striker Dusan Vlahovic who wasn’t ready vs Cameroon.
Serbia falling behind and losing a two-goal lead in the second half against Cameroon will boost Switzerland. Five goals conceded in just two games is a clear indication of the defensive fragility of the Serbian team. With Switzerland looking strong and hard to beat under Yakin, they will be tough opposition for a Serbian side also hopeful of qualifying.
Breel Embolo will once again be the focal point of the Swiss attack after leading the line in the matches against Cameroon and Brazil. Unlike the game against Brazil where Switzerland mostly sat back and didn’t look to create many chances, Embolo and Switzerland are likely to be more attack-minded as they aim to ensure their place in the next round. Of course, this will suit Embolo after his goal on the opening day was enough to seal three points against Cameroon.
The 25-year-old came into the tournament in the form of his career at Monaco and has been delivering consistently for the national team over the last year. His goal against Cameroon was his third goal in the last five games and with Serbia giving up shots (and goals) against the main strikers of the last five teams they have played (Cameroon, Brazil, Bahrain, Norway and Sweden), I would expect that Embolo should be able to register at least one shot on target, especially if Switzerland are going to get themselves into the Last 16.
Mitrovic got on the scoresheet vs Cameroon but it was a very frustrating night for him as he also hit the post & missed 2 or 3 other really good chances that should have put the game away for Serbia.
The goal however should help get Mitrovic back in form as he’s been out injured for Fulham for a few weeks & now that he’s tasted goal again his confidence may be on the rise.
He will get a lot of service on Friday as Serbia is in a must win situation. They will need their top goal scoring threat & all time leading scorer to shake off the rust & head them into the round of 16 & beyond.
Vlahovic has barely played all tournament as he’s struggled to get fully fit after suffering an injury a few weeks before the World Cup. He appeared to have reaggravated the injury against Brazil & sat out the match vs Cameroon.
Vlahovic appears to be doing much better health wise & looked more ready to go at Serbia’s training session on Wednesday. Coach Stojkovic was encouraged by his progress this week.
Serbia has to win this game to have a chance of advancing & Vlahovic no doubt wants to make up for lost time & get his name on the scoresheet. He should find himself in more than a few opportunities on Friday.
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