Switzerland 2-0 Portugal
Two unanswered first-half goals from Embolo and Mehmedi gave Switzerland victory over Portugal in the opening Group B match of qualification for the Russia 2018 World Cup.
After a bright start the Seleção let down their guard and were hit by two goals in quick succession. Despite dominating possession for the rest of the game, Portugal found it difficult to create clear-cut chances against a well-marshalled Swiss defence.
The setback sees Portugal playing catch-up from the off, with only the group winners guaranteed a berth at the tournament in Russia. As Fernando Santos said post-match: "There is only one thing to do now. That is to win, win and win again until the end of qualification."
Both teams were without their injured star men, Shaqiri out for the hosts, and captain Cristiano Ronaldo missing for Portugal. Fernando Santos surprised many by selecting Bernardo Silva and Eder in the starting line-up, leaving João Mário and Ricardo Quaresma on the bench.
The tactics initially seemed to work as the Seleção caused the hosts plenty of problems in the opening minutes. João Moutinho slipped a trademark through-ball into Eder's path, the powerful striker sprinted forward but took a touch on the ball that left him at an awkward angle and he could not get his shot on target.
A neat passing move then had Swiss defenders chasing shadows, with Bernardo Silva volleying towards the net but straight at goalkeeper Sommer. There followed a moment of controversy when Lichtensteiner blasted a clearance against the outstretched arm of his team-mate Djourou in the box, but the referee ignored the penalty claims of Portugal's players.
Next Guerreiro had a shooting opportunity with a free kick on the edge of the box, but he hit his effort into the wall.
The Swiss had rarely threatened in the opening 20 minutes, save the odd run forward from the impressive left-back Rodriguez, but out of nothing the home side took the lead midway through the half. Rodriguez smashed a free-kick from 25 yards out at goal, Rui Patrício parried the ball forward, and Embolo reacted quickest to head the loose ball into the net.
It soon got worse for Portugal as a rapid counter-attack led to Seferovic cutting the ball back into the box where Mehmedi was left criminally unmarked. He had time to control the ball and pick his spot, giving Patrício no chance with his shot into the roof of the net.
The lively Raphael Guerreiro, just like at Euro 2016, was lending good support to the attack, and the Borussia Dortmund left-back was close to cutting the deficit on two occasions after combining well with the hard-working Nani, his first shot charged down and his second deflected agonisingly past the post with Sommer beaten.
Santos rings the changes
Santos changed things at half time, bringing on João Mário and André Silva for William Carvalho and Eder. Switzerland retreated ever more into their shell, inviting Portugal to come at them, but for all their pressure Portugal could not fashion goal-scoring opportunities and were mainly restricted to shooting from range, and almost always over the bar.
Only when Ricardo Quaresma came on for João Moutinho in the 68th minute did Portugal begin to have some joy. A delightful cross by Quaresma onto Nani's head seemed certain to result in a goal, but the Portugal captain did not make a clean connection and ball capriciously bounced onto the post and out.
José Fonte, João Mário and Quaresma himself were all close to scoring but a last-ditch Swiss leg was always in the way. The best chances for another goal actually fell to the home team in the closing minutes as Portugal committed bodies forward and inevitably left gaps at the back.
But no further goals were scored and it is Switzerland who sit on top of the group after the first round of matches, with Hungary surprisingly held in their trip to the Faroe Islands. If Portugal need inspiration in their coming matches they need only look at Euro 2016. That qualifying campaign began with a defeat to Albania, and we all know how the tournament ended...
by Tom Kundert
Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner (Widmer, 69’), Schär, Djourou, Rodriguez;,Behrami, Xhaka, Embolo, Dzemaili (Fernandes, 88’), Mehmedi, Seferovic (Derdiyok, 78’)
Portugal: Rui Patricio, Cédric, Pepe, José Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro, William Carvalho (João Mario, 46’), João Moutinho (Quaresma, 67’), Adrien Silva, Bernardo Silva, Eder (André Silva, 46’), Nani
[1-0] Embolo, 23’
[2-0] Mehmedi, 30’