NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia – Switzerland is through to a knockout game against Sweden at the World Cup. Half of its starting defense isn’t.
Switzerland qualified second in Group E behind Brazil despite twice losing the lead in a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica on Wednesday night. The riveting game culminated with an injury-time penalty from Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz that hit the crossbar and went in off Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer’s head.
Despite the late drama, a draw was enough to send Switzerland through to the knockout stage.
But the bad news for the Swiss: Yellow cards for captain Stephan Lichtsteiner and fellow defender Fabian Schaer – their second of the tournament – meant they’ll be suspended for the Sweden match in St. Petersburg.
Their absence leaves two gaping holes to be filled at the back as Switzerland chases a place in the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time since 1954.
“This is certainly not an ideal scenario,” Switzerland midfielder Blerim Dzemaili said. “We don’t need to look at who’s not there, we need to look at who will be able to play. This is very disappointing.”
Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic’s gamble to play the two key defenders while they were already on yellow cards backfired in a game where the team only needed a draw to progress. As it turned out, Switzerland could have lost to already-eliminated Costa Rica and still gone through because Brazil beat Serbia 2-0.
Serbia had a chance to pass Switzerland for second place, but Brazil ended up dominating that match. Brazil will face Group F runner-up Mexico Monday and Switzerland plays Sweden Tuesday.
“I think the team can cope (against Sweden),” Petkovic said. “It’s too bad for those two guys but it’s too late now to lament that and correct that.”
Right back Lichtsteiner received his yellow for a studs-up tackle in the first half. Central defender Schaer got his late on, with seven minutes to go of normal time.
Switzerland had led Costa Rica against the run of play in Nizhny Novgorod when Dzemaili slammed in the first goal from close range in the 31st minute.
Dzemaili didn’t replicate the politically charged double-headed Albanian eagle hand-signal celebrations that Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner all used in the game against Serbia that earned them combined fines of $25,000 from FIFA.
Costa Rica decided they had had enough of being losers at this World Cup.
The Central Americans avoided being the only team to go home from Russia without a goal when defender Kendall Waston rose to head in a corner early in the second half to equalize at 1-1.
Substitute Josip Drmic put Switzerland ahead again with a first-time shot from a cross in the 88th minute.
Costa Rica, surprise quarterfinalists in Brazil four years ago, lifted themselves again.
Moments after referee Clement Turpin of France consulted the video assistant referee and turned down a Costa Rica penalty claim, Los Ticos did get a spot-kick.
Joel Campbell was hacked down on the left side of the penalty area by Denis Zakaria in injury time, giving Ruiz the chance to send Costa Rica home with the consolation of a point for a draw.
He took it, via the back of goalie Sommer’s head. The goal was given as an own goal by Sommer. That brought the World Cup total to eight own goals, already two higher than the 1998 record.
Brazil ultimately topped a group the five-time World Cup winner was expected to win. It didn’t come easy for after a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in its opening game. Costa Rica also frustrated Neymar and the Brazilians until two goals in injury-time. Brazil was solid against Serbia, with goals in each half by Paulinho and Thiago Silva seeing it through.
Switzerland did enough to hold on to second place.
Key to success
Switzerland will undoubtedly miss right back Lichtsteiner and central defender Schaer for the game against Sweden, which proved it will be a handful with a 3-0 win earlier Wednesday over Mexico.
Switzerland has the potential up front with the likes of Dzemaili and creative midfielders Shaqiri and Xhaka, but all the focus against Sweden will be now be on how to shore up the defense.
Costa Rica was in danger of becoming the first team since Algeria and Honduras in 2010 to leave a World Cup without a goal. Waston, who plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer, made sure that didn’t happen.
“Our group was very tough,” Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez said. “But that’s the way football is. I insist that we played against very good teams.”
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