No longer underdogs
Switzerland’s performances have improved game by game: a difficult but deserved 1-0 win against Denmark in their first game; a comfortable 2-0 victory over Iceland; an easy 3-0 win over Belarus. Coach Pierluigi Tami has developed the Swiss into the most impressive team at the tournament, alongside Spain. Unlike the Spanish though, Switzerland won their group with nine points and clean sheets galore, thanks to a superb defence marshalled by centre back Jonathan Rossini and goalkeeper Yann Sommer (a key figure in the opening win).
Tami has made all the right calls in Denmark; the coach moved left-footed Xherdan Shaqiri to the right; deployed striker Innocent Emeghara as a left winger to better utilise his pace; put Granit Xhaka at the heart of a five-man midfield as a playmaker, well protected by defensive midfielder Fabian Lustenberger and factotum Fabian Frei. Tami also finally opted for attacking all-rounder Admir Mehmedi, leaving experienced Bundesliga-playing Mario Gavranovic and Nassim Ben Khalifa. Under Tami, playing abroad does not hand a player any guarantees, as seven Swiss Super League players in the first eleven confirms.
Substance over style
A dramatic late comeback in the last group game against England booked the Czech Republic a well-deserved ticket to the semi-finals. Despite the English boasting more talented players on paper than the Czechs, Jakub Dovalil’s men showed strong team spirit and better tactical organisation than their opponents. This should not have surprised England – after all, since June 2009, the Czechs had lost but one game, a 2-0 defeat to Spain four days before facing Stuart Pearce’s side.
The Czechs’ strongest asset is their largely functional five-man midfield, led by Marcel Gecov, combined with two quick full backs - Ondřej Čelůstka and Jan Lecjaks – who constantly provide support. Against Spain, Dovalil experimented with a more attacking formation, going with a 4-4-2 and two strikers up front; it was not a success though. Against England the Czechs reverted to type, playing Tomas Pekhart as a lone striker, and delighting in the striker’s winning goal at the death.
Players to watch
Switzerland – Fabian Frei: While all eyes will focus on star man Shaqiri and tournament revelation Emeghara, Frei’s ability to play between the lines can be Switzerland’s secret weapon. His versatility makes him crucial as both an attacking or defensive midfielder, as the Swiss showed against Belarus when he opened the scoring and then successfully defended on Switzerland’s goal-line. Currently under contract with Basel, Frei spent last season on loan with St. Gallen.
Czech Republic - Ondřej Čelůstka: A physically strong full back, Čelůstka has impressed due to his ability to get up and down the entire right flank and has turned in two stellar performances against Ukraine and England. His speed could prove to be the perfect solution to breaking down Switzerland’s stubborn backline, especially as Čelůstka should face the less than lightening quick Gaetano Berardi. The Czech plays for Slavia Prague after an unlucky loan spell with Serie A outfit Palermo.
Switzerland start this semi-final as clear favourites, but the Czechs should not be underestimated and their strong tactical organisation will make them difficult for the Alpine country to break down, especially if they succeed in slowing down the rhythm of the game. The absence of Xhaka in midfield is a big blow to Switzerland, however this game still looks a 60-40 clash in favour of the more talented Swiss.
Fonte: Inside Futbol