Switzerland 5-2 Belgium
Well, this was a Sunday evening full of UEFA Nations League drama.
us fans had Switzerland so far out of the running after just 17 minutes in Lucerne it was game over.
All the UEFA Nations League 2018 odds also pointed to a Belgium success in the final match of Group A2.
Then Switzerland remarkably turned things around (with a little help from the visiting rearguard) to ensure an eye-catching UEFA Nations League 2018 news story which few, if any, saw coming.
Highlights of the game
In part that was because Switzerland had lost by a single goal in four of their last six matches.
In part, it was because they have, respectfully, continued to be above average but little more at this level, as shown by failing to reach quarter-finals of World Cup for 64 years.
More still, Switzerland were coming off a loss in a friendly match to Qatar (albeit with a far from a full-strength side) and had to win by two goals to secure top spot, while Belgium simply required a draw.
A MichyBatshuayi double in the defeat of Iceland had put Belgium on the brink of a place in next summer’s semi-finals and, while boss Roberto Martinez was still without the influential duo Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku(as well as Jan Vertonghen) in Lucerne, it was naturally felt the team officially ranked number one in the world would be too strong for the Swiss.
That view was enhanced inside two minutes when a poor backpass was intercepted and the less celebrated member of the Hazard family, Thorgan Hazard, brother of Eden, was alert to nip in and open the scoring.
When the same player, who plies his trade for Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga, rifled a low shot past Yann Sommer to finish off a swift Belgium counter-attack in the 17th minute, Switzerland suddenly needed four.
Even when NacerChadli caught Kevin Mbabu in the box midway through the first half and the resulting penalty was converted by Ricardo Rodriguez, it was difficult to see Switzerland adding three more.
Indeed, the last time they had managed that against a major player in international football came in August 2012 when they saw off Croatia 4-2 in a friendly.
Within another five minutes, they were level as the unmarked XherdanShaqiriwas allowed to head the ball across goal and Haris Seferovic made no mistake from close range.
A decisive moment came just before the break.
From a Belgium corner, it was the home side’s turn to counter and from Edimilson Fernandes’ pass, Seferovic expertly rifled home his second goal.
Going in ahead at the break must have given Switzerland enormous belief and they left the pitch to a standing ovation.
The momentum was all Swiss and it was all too much for Belgium.
Just past the hour mark, Shaqiri delivered into the danger zone and Nico Elvedi– whose wayward pass had contributed to Belgium’s opener – headed past a helpless Thibaut Courtois.
The unlikeliest of turnarounds became a reality six minutes from time when man-of-the-match Seferovic completed a superb hat-trick.
Shaqiri’s back-heel set Mbabu away and his cross was finished with aplomb by the home number nine.
If Eden Hazard had seen his shot go in instead of being tipped onto the crossbar by Sommer minutes later, we may have seen an even more dramatic final few minutes.
But no-one could begrudge a famous night for Switzerland and a victory which was scarcely believable an hour earlier.
The tournament may be in its infancy but this was a UEFA Nations League classic!
The Swiss last recorded a win in this fixture over 25 years ago.
Switzerland had only won eight of their previous 28 matches against Belgium.
Belgium had been unbeaten in their last four meetings with Switzerland (won three, drawn one), including a success in the reverse fixture in the UEFA Nations League.
Vladimir Petkovic’s Switzerland have kept just one clean sheet in their last 10 matches.
Thorgan Hazard’s double means he has trebled his international goal tally in one game.
Top of Form
For me, Belgium have been the best international team to watch this calendar year and have possessed the best player in the world in Eden Hazard.
This was not the way they wished to end 2018.
Switzerland join hosts Portugal, England and either Holland or France in the semi-finals of this competition, the draw for which will be made in Dublin on December 3.
Seferovic now has 17 international goals.
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