With World Cup penalties rising, Switzerland has Sommer-time
In an era where more penalties than ever are awarded at the World Cup because of video review, Switzerland can rely on Yann Sommer.
The list of players who had spot kicks saved by the Switzerland goalkeeper in the past two years in competitive games is impressive: Kylian Mbappé; Sergio Ramos, twice; Jorginho; Rodri Hernández; Tomas Soucek.
The save against Mbappé was Sommer’s finest moment. It sealed a penalty shootout win over World Cup champion France last year in the round of 16 of the European Championship.
The save against Jorginho is one reason why Switzerland will go to Qatar and Italy will stay home.
Sommer outthought the midfielder’s trademark slow jump-and-kick technique in a qualifying game that ended 0-0.
Two months later in Rome, Jorginho changed style and sent a 90th-minute penalty too high over Sommer’s goal. The match ended 1-1, allowing the Swiss to win the group and drop Italy into the playoffs — where the four-time champions lost.
Swiss television reflected national pride in Sommer when saved a shot from Soucek in September at a Nations League game.
“Yann is the No. 1 penalty killer in European soccer,” the commentator said in German.
A record 29 penalty kicks were awarded at the 2018 World Cup, where video review meant officials missed fewer incidents. The previous highest was 18 at a 32-team World Cup tournament.
Qatar will be Sommer’s third World Cup, and his second as the first-choice goalkeeper. He has played 76 games for Switzerland’s national team.
Sommer, who turns 34 the day before the World Cup final, started his career at Basel but he is currently in his ninth season at German club Borussia Mönchengladbach.
His preparation for Qatar, however, was interrupted by an injury to his left ankle on Oct. 18.
Murat Yakin was hired midway through the qualifying group in August 2021 when he was coaching at second-division Swiss club Schaffhausen.
His predecessor, Vladimir Petkovic, cashed in after a run to the Euro 2020 quarterfinals, moving to French club Bordeaux. He was fired from that job in February.
Within weeks, Yakin guided his team to draws against European champion Italy — results that led to automatic World Cup qualification as group winner.
Yakin played 49 times for Switzerland as a central defender and coached Basel to two league titles.
Switzerland is solid in a defense anchored by Manchester City’s Manuel Akanji and looks dangerous in attack with two young forwards having impressive seasons — Breel Embolo and Noah Okafor.
At 25, Embolo is going to his fourth major tournament and perhaps first as the established first-choice forward. He scored winning goals against Spain and the Czech Republic in September games in the Nations League, and has settled fast at French club Monaco after leaving Mönchengladbach.
Okafor scored in three straight Champions League games for Austrian club Salzburg.
With family ties to Cameroon and Nigeria, respectively, Embolo and Okafor embody the diverse roots of the Swiss squad.
The links of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri to their Kosovo-Albanian heritage were clear in their exuberant celebrations after scoring in a 2-1 win over Serbia at the 2018 World Cup.
The Swiss and Serbs will meet again in Qatar in Group G on Dec. 2.
FIFA fined both Xhaka and Shaqiri for their Albanian eagle hand gestures four years ago and a repeat is perhaps unlikely. Also unlikely is that Serbia’s players and fans have forgotten.
Switzerland will warm up for its three Group G matches by facing Ghana — a potential round of 16 opponent — in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 17.
Besides Serbia, the Swiss will also play Cameroon and Brazil in the group stage in Qatar.
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