Thursday, June 17, 2010

Swiss Provide World Cup's First Shock

Beautiful to watch and all but impossible to beat for the last two years, Spain has not yet figured out how to combine artistry and victory in South Africa.

Since winning the European championships in 2008, the only blemish on its record was a surprising 2-0 loss here to the United States in last year’s Confederations Cup. But the even bigger surprise came Wednesday on a lovely late afternoon in Durban, where Spain was beaten, 1-0, by Switzerland in the World Cup opener for each team.

The defeat, the first shock of the tournament, was not quite as big an upset as Senegal’s opening-day ambush of France in 2002: the French were defending champions. But this was still quite a jolt, considering that Spain and Brazil are widely considered the top two teams playing in South Africa.

To manage it, Switzerland had to repel assault after assault and accept the uncomfortable truth that the Spaniards would control the ball for most of the game with their passing and trapping prowess. The Swiss got top-notch games from their goalkeeper, Diego Benaglio, and from their defensive midfielders, Benjamin Huggel and Gökhan Inler, who implemented Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld’s game plan by funneling the Spanish attack largely to the wings, where their crosses, in light of Spain’s lack of height up front, did less damage.

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