Switzerland 2-0 Italy: Swiss masterclass sends hopeless holders packing

Switzerland comfortably dismantled Italy 2-0 to defeat and eliminate the reigning champions in what was a remarkable display of men against boys.

Italy were devoid of a plan, devoid of ideas, devoid of desire: Switzerland were everything they weren’t. The result marks the first time they’ve beaten the Italians in 31 years.

As it happened

To say the reigning champions limped to the round of 16 would be an understatement. Italy were outplayed against Spain, they were outplayed against Croatia, and they only got that vital point right at the end through the spirit of Alessandro Del Pierro possessing Mattia Zaccagni’s right boot. So, and prepare yourself for a shock here, they rocked up to the Olympiastadion and were well and truly outplayed by Switzerland.

It wasn’t entirely Italian sluggishness that facilitated that, because Switzerland are a very good team. They went through Group A unbeaten and they were a hair’s breadth – a Niclas Füllkrug hair, to be precise – away from beating Germany and topping the group.

They were good here too. What they were excellent at was keeping the ball; what they weren’t excellent at was creating big chances.

Their first one of those came in the 24th minute, when Michel Aebischer clipped the ball in behind for Breel Embolo to chase. The Monaco man latched onto the pass, cut inside and tried to curl a finish past Gianluigi Donnarumma. He wasn’t having it, though, reacting in a flash to push it away.

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Maybe, Embolo thought he was offside; he certainly looked it. But he wasn’t, because Matteo Darmian was five yards deeper than the rest of the defence and played him on.

Just reading the name Matteo Darmian probably feels like hopping into a time machine, and it speaks to the fact that Italy’s squad was heavily rotated. Six changes were made because they were so poor in that draw with Croatia. Sadly, the fresh faces (such as promising 31-year-old youngster Stefan El Shaarawy) didn’t make the performance any better.

Italy laboured, while Switzerland cut through them with ease. When the Azzuri did have the ball, they were crowded out by an organised press; when they didn’t, they flocked around the Swiss man in possession like a band of headless chickens. They were that bad.

On Switzerland’s part, they looked so much better when they were direct. Not because they couldn’t maintain the ball; they could certainly do that. No, they were better direct because Italy let them be direct.

Fancy a cheesy pun? Of course you do. Switzerland may be famous for their dairy products, but it was Italy who were full of holes. Knew you’d enjoy that. But moreover, it was the Italian midfield full of holes. They led themselves down blind alleys on the ball, and off it they allowed Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler to split them effortlessly. It was uncountable the number of times the Italian backline was faced with a Swiss overload because the midfield let one pass nullify them.

So, when the Swiss goal game on 37 minutes, there was no real surprise. One ball found Vargas down the lefthand side, and one ball found Remo Freuler with acres of space in the area. He took one touch and smashed it – with the aid of a Gianluca Mancini deflection – past a helpless Donnarumma. To paraphrase yesterday’s Glastonbury headliner, one pass is all it takes.

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They had one last big chance to score just before half time, with Fabian Rieder curling a devilish freekick towards the near post from a really tricky angle, but Donnarumma was alert again and clawed it onto the post and out. Something about that Italy shirt really does bring out the best in keepers called Gianluigi.

‘What about the Italy chances?’ I hear you cry. Well, I’m frantically flicking through my notes here and there’s nothing. It was – and I say this as someone who has watched all six matches England and Scotland matches – maybe the worst half of football any side at this tournament has played so far.

But did Italy learn from their mistakes in the second half? Well, yes, they did. For about 15 seconds. Because, after that, Nicolò Fagioli gave the ball away again, Switzerland worked the ball down the lefthand side again and, guess what? They scored. Again.

This one was just a moment of genius from Ruben Vargas. He picked the ball up just inside the area with one thing in his mind: to curl it into the top righthand corner, and he did it to perfection. Donnarumma was nowhere near it, and the poetry of scoring a goal like that just after Mattia Zaccagni was introduced cannot be ignored. He was stood, helpless, eating his heart out.

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Switzerland must’ve got bored of having things all their own way, because 52 minutes in, Fabian Schär headed the ball – under no pressure, mind – onto his own post. He wrongfooted Yann Sommer and could only wait to breathe a sigh of relief after it bounced back into the box. It really does sum up this game that Italy’s first real chance came from a Swiss player.

An hour in and Italy had had no shots on target. They’d only had nine in the entire tournament. That really points to what they’ve been so upset about: their lack of upcoming talent in the forward department. So many Italian forwards have had great things expected of them; look at Andrea Belotti and Moise Kean. But neither of them made the squad, missing out to Mateo Retegui who is, for all intents and purposes, Argentinian. But they wouldn’t have scored in this game with Filippo Inzaghi up top because they couldn’t create anything. They couldn’t even keep the ball.

Momentum did swing a little after that. The occasional forward move was threatening and the occasional shot or long ball would trouble Yann Sommer, but there was never a moment when Switzerland weren’t the better team.

The big chance for the Azzuri fell to Gianluca Scamacca in the 74th minute. Zaccagni squared it to him a foot away from goal and amazingly he could only force it onto the post. He’s only scored once for Italy; that wasn’t to change today.

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In the end, Murat Yakin got it so right and Luciano Spalletti got it so wrong. The latter took a big risk with a rotated squad, and the former drilled into his regulars a plan which they executed to perfection.

So, the holders are out and out with a whimper. Really, they’re lucky they made it this far. Switzerland, on the other hand, march on and could go deeper than many would’ve predicted just a couple of weeks ago. The win means they could face England in the quarterfinals, a prospect which Gareth Southgate should be rather wary of.

But enough about that. Today, winning against Italy for the first time since 1993, was a Swiss day . On this evidence, you’d bet on them to beat anyone.

You can keep up with everything that happens throughout EURO2024’s round of 16 and beyond right here at FromTheSpot.

The lineups

SUI: Sommer; Rodriguez, Akanji, Schär; Rieder, Xhaka, Freuler, Aebischer; Ndoye, Vargas, Embolo

ITA: Donnarumma; Darmian, Bastoni, Mancini, Di Lorenzo; Barella, Fagioli, Cristante; El Shaarawy, Scamacca, Chiesa