Tournament dark horses Switzerland get festivities under way in the Brazilian capital on Sunday as the Arena Nacional in Brasilia hosts their opening clash with Ecuador.
Ottmar Hitzfeld's men stormed through qualifying, making light work of their opponents and dropping just six points along the way. In Ecuador they find a team far outside their comfort zone away from the dizzy heights of their home surroundings. There were no secrets to the success of La Tri's qualifying campaign: of 25 points collected in qualifying, 22 came from home ties played at the oxygen-starved altitude of Quito. In a match that should be relatively straightforward for Hitzfeld's side, here's how the battle could be won:
Despite a fairly modest goal tally in their impressive qualifying run, when the Swiss did score it tended to be from the left, with only a handful of sides reaching Brazil creating a smaller share of goals from this flank. Attacking left-back Ricardo Rodriguez scored five times in the Bundesliga for Wolfsburg last season and provided nine assists for his team-mates, suggesting that when Switzerland do threaten, his piercing forward runs and deadly crossing will be key. Rodriguez is likely to see a lot of the action against Ecuador, who conceded over a third of their goals from that side, a higher percentage than all but three finalists.
While the success of Switzerland's campaign will more than likely depend on their ability in front of goal, there won't be many concerns about their defence. A well-drilled backline was the most impressive on the road to Brazil, keeping clean sheets in 70 per cent of their matches - more than any other team to make the tournament. Unfortunately for those who drew Ecuador in the sweepstakes, the bad news keeps coming: they scored goals at the second-lowest rate of the 32 finalists, at just 1.25 - this is unlikely to be their day.
A ray of hope
In Edison Mendez and Antonio Valencia however, the Tricolor are a threat from free-kicks, with Mendez in particular considered a dead-ball specialist. Ecuador demonstrated their effectiveness from these situations throughout qualifying, by creating a fifth of their goals this way - the second-highest proportion behind Nigeria. However, as you would expect by now, there is a caveat: Switzerland didn't concede from a single free-kick in their campaign. Sorry, Ecuador fans.
The challenge for Ottmar Hitzfeld in this tournament will be to get his team scoring goals without compromising their defensive solidity. If Switzerland are to improve upon their best World Cup performances - quarter-final showings in 1934 and 1938 - he'll have to figure out a way of finding the net with greater regularity. Ecuador, for their part, shouldn't trouble them. In Mendez they do have a free-kick specialist, but with star man and captain Valencia coming off the back of a poor campaign for Manchester United, few will expect them to spring a surprise here.
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