As we quickly progress through the group stage in the 2014 World Cup, there are a handful of soccer axioms that we find repeating. While the sport is in a constant state of flux, on both micro and macro levels, there are certain truths about the game that seems to always rear their heads no matter who is taking the field and no matter what larger context the game itself is being played. One such cliché is not to take anything for granted. No matter the seeming impossibility of a certain outcome, it is a possible outcome nonetheless.
While all logic certainly seems to dictate that today’s match between France and Switzerland will be played more so to determine seeding for the knockout round than it will be to determine placement in the knockout round, that should not be taken for granted. Switzerland and France have been the presumptive favorites to emerge from Group E since the day the groups were announced, but the reality is that neither team have secured advancement. After today’s match, only one side will be able to say that they have secured a spot in the knockout round. The answer to this question lies in which team realizes this and plays accordingly.
In order to secure safe passage into the round of 16, both teams need to improve their performance from their respective first matches. Switzerland should take more pride from their victory over Ecuador than France should from their victory over Honduras. Of course, France gave Honduras a more thorough beating than the Swiss did the Ecuadorians, the final score does not tell the entire tale of a match. Ecuador is a more talented team than Honduras, and Switzerland played a fierce, tactically sound match that prevented the Ecuadorians from ever establishing any real chance against the stronger Swiss side. The Swiss were aggressive without being sloppy, smart without being overly judicious and, most importantly, they played as a team while understanding that individuals are still responsible for the outcome of the game at times, as shown by Haris Seferovic’s sublime game winning goal.
France, meanwhile, played Honduras with all the style and tact of an adult beating a child. They knew they were stronger and simply pounded Honduras in a display of brute force. Karim Benzema played an absolutely phenomenal game, but there were flaws in France’s game that will be exposed by better opponents. Take, for example, Paul Pogba’s childish reaction to Wilson Palacios’ intentional kicks midway through the first half. Pogba responded with a well-placed foot of his own, earning a well-deserved yellow. France should only expect more of the same from Switzerland, and the French players will need to remember there is a time and place for everything. In addition, near misses, like Patrice Evra’s header that met the crossbar in the 23rd minute, will be costly against a stringent defensive team like Switzerland. Opportunities will be hard to come by, so France needs to take advantage of every one they get.