Gritty Switzerland Block Italy as Azzurri Catch Second Tie in a Row

Pushed by their home supporters, Switzerland were going to pose a tougher challenge to the Azzurri than what they did at the Euro and coach Roberto Mancini knew that. At the Sankt Jakob-Park in Basel, it ended in a goalless draw, a disappointing result that risks complicating Italy’s path towards Qatar 2022.

By tying tonight’s game, Italy maintained a four-point margin over the Swiss in Group C of the World Cup Qualifiers but Murat Yakin’s side have played two games less. The reverse fixture against Switzerland, on November 12 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, will most likely decide who will top the group and gain a direct ticker to Qatar.

Italy did have their chances to grab the three points, also missing a penalty with Jorginho (it was the first time that the Chelsea man missed a spot conversion for the Azzurri) but ultimately paid for their lack of precision in the final third and showed a concerning – albeit understandable at this early stage of the season – lack of condition.

The only good news of the night for Mancini and co. was that, by surviving in Basel, they extended their non-losing streak to 36 games. That is an all-time record.

Switzerland and Italy had faced each other in the second game of Euro 2020. Back then, it ended in a triumph for the Azzurri, who lined up exactly the same XI except for Emerson Palmieri replacing the injured Leonardo Spinazzola.

Compared with Italy’s last outing against Bulgaria on Wednesday, Roberto Mancini put back Giovanni Di Lorenzo as right back instead of Alessandro Florenzi, while captain Giorgio Chiellini re-joined his Juventus partner Leonardo Bonucci in the middle of the defense. In midfield, Manuel Locatelli replaced Marco Verratti who was not in the best shape. Federico Berardi was preferred to Federico Chiesa as right winger.

Switzerland’s new coach Murat Yakin had his share of problems to face, especially in midfield where he  could not count on the likes of Remo Freuler, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri to name a few. He lined up his side in 4-3-3 fashion that looked more like a 4-1-4-1 with Haris Seferovic being the only true striker.

The match was played at a high pace since the get-go, though it took quite some time before seeing any of the keepers in action.

The first chance was for Italy and came after almost 20 minutes. Manuel Locatelli saw Domenico Berardi dashing on the counter and served him with a spectacular long range pass, but the Sassuolo man lost his one-on-one duel with Yann Sommer – more because of his lack of precision than of the keeper’s heroics.

However, Sommer was fully to credit a few minutes later for a brilliant intervention to anticipate Ciro Immobile from a Nicolò Barella whipping cross from the right hand side.

On 34 minutes, it was showtime for the Azzurri: a brilliant one-touch combination set Lorenzo Insigne free to go for his trademark curl but the Neapolitan’s shot sailed above the crossbar. After that Italy, so far quite convincing, started to lose effectiveness in the final third.

The Swiss gained confidence after starting with a cautious approach but managed to show themselves around Gianluigi Donnarumma’s area only on 41 minutes. Fabian Frei whipped a free-kick into the box to find Manuel Akanji’s header – which ended not far from the top right corner of the goal.

Right before the break, Insigne tried to catch Sommer by surprise firing a free kick right towards his goal from a narrow angle but the Swiss goalie continued to stay alert.

Italy had a chance to open the scoring early in the second half but Jorginho wasted it from the penalty spot. The Italian-Brazilian was sent to the spot by Torino’s Ricardo Rodriguez, who slide-tackled Berardi in the box, hitting him on his foot.

Jorginho’s penalty duel with Sommer was a battle between two specialists, but the Swiss goalkeeper didn’t exactly have a pull off a miracle to save the Chelsea man’s sloppy conversion attempt.

Roberto Mancini changed both his wingers, sending in Federico Chiesa and Nicolò Zaniolo – finally back with the Azzurri after the terrible ACL injury he suffered one year ago. The Roma starlet replaced Ciro Immobile, thus playing as a falso nueve. Murat Yakin answered with a triple change that brought in Denis Zakaria, Ulisses Garcia and Ruben Vargas. The Swiss coach then added striker Christian Fassnacht, while Mancini’s next move was Verratti for Locatelli.

On 71 minutes, another opportunity for the Azzurri: Insigne was picked by Locatelli in the box and volleyed the ball towards Sommer but the Borussia Monchengladbach shot-stopper was insurmountable.

The score did not change. Italy continued to maintain command of the operations until the end but Switzerland gave the impression to be able to strike by any minute, with Zakaria testing Donnarumma in a couple of occasions. Mancini’s last additions – Giacomo Raspadori and Matteo Pessina – didn’t have enough time to make an impact.

The Italian coach was disappointed at full time: “This is one of those games where you need to put the ball into the net, we had too many chances not to win,” he said in his post-match remarks. “We need to be more ruthless, more precise. We dominated the game and we should have won.

After two draws in a row, the reigning European Champions will have a prompt chance for redemption as they face Lithuania in Reggio Emilia next Wednesday. But their path towards the 2022 World Cup has surely got a bit more complicated than expected.



September 5, 2021 – World Cup 2022 Qualifiers Group C

SWITZERLAND (4-3-3): Sommer; Widmer, Elvedi, Akanji, Rodriguez (63′ Garcia); Aebischer, Frei, Sow (63′ Zakaria); Steffen (71′ Fassnacht), Zuber (63′ Vargas); Seferovic (86′ Zeqiri) (Mvogo, Kobel, Schär, Zesiger, Lotomba, Lauper, Ndoye) Coach: Yakin
ITALY (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson Palmieri; Barella (90′ Pessina), Jorginho, Locatelli (77′ Verratti); Berardi (59′ Chiesa), Immobile (59′ Zaniolo), Insigne (90′ Raspadori) (Sirigu, Gollini, Bastoni, Toloi, Calabria, Pellegrini, Cristante) Coach: R. Mancini

REFEREE: Del Cerro Grande (Spain)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Sow, Aebischer, Elvedi, Frei (S), Chiellini (I); Added Time: 1st Half 2′, 2nd Half 4′