Switzerland falls again to first World Cup knockout punch

Dec 6, 2022, 12:01 PM | Updated: Dec 7, 2022, 2:06 am
Switzerland's midfielder Granit Xhaka, right, and Switzerland's midfielder Denis Zakaria, left, rea...

Switzerland's midfielder Granit Xhaka, right, and Switzerland's midfielder Denis Zakaria, left, react after the elimination during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal and Switzerland at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

(Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

              Portugal's Ruben Dias, left, is challenged by Switzerland's Breel Embolo during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal and Switzerland, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
            
              Switzerland's goalkeeper Yann Sommer reacts after Portugal's fifth goal during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal and Switzerland, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
            
              Switzerland's head coach Murat Yakin watches from the bench during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal and Switzerland, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
            
              Portugal's Raphael Guerreiro, right, fights for the ball with Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal and Switzerland, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
            
              Switzerland's Breel Embolo, left, and Portugal's Ruben Dias battle for the ball during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal and Switzerland, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
            
              Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri reacts at the end of the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal and Switzerland, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Portugal won 6-1. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
            
              Switzerland's goalkeeper Yann Sommer reacts after Portugal's Pepe scored his side's second goal during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal and Switzerland, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
            
              Switzerland's head coach Murat Yakin looks on prior to the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal and Switzerland, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
            
              Switzerland's Breel Embolo argues with linesman during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal and Switzerland, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
            
              Switzerland's midfielder Granit Xhaka, right, and Switzerland's midfielder Denis Zakaria, left, react after the elimination during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal and Switzerland at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

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.

WHO’S OUT?

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.

WHO’S NEXT?

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.

WHAT’S NEXT?

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.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Switzerland falls again to first World Cup knockout punch