AL-WAKRAH, Qatar – Switzerland got the World Cup season off to a perfect start with a 1-0 win over Cameroon at Al-Janoub Stadium on Thursday.
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Cameroon had chances to take the lead in the first half but it was Switzerland who broke the deadlock in the 48th minute when Breel Embolo scored from close range.
Switzerland had some brilliant chances to improve their tally but were thwarted by a remarkable last-second defence.
With Brazil and Serbia both awaiting these sides, Switzerland will go forward with confidence, while Cameroon need two remarkable performances to even have a chance of reaching the last 16.
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1. The Cameroon-born striker who ruined Cameroon’s hopes
The breakthrough finally came early in the second half. A cross from Xherdan Shaqiri caught Embolo about eight yards from goal and he easily fired past goalkeeper Andre Onana. It was Embolo’s first World Cup goal and one can imagine it was one of the best moments of his life, but celebrations were muted. Instead, he raised his hands apologetically – a sign of respect.
Embolo was born in Yaounde, Cameroon, in 1997 but grew up in Basel. In his youth career, he rose to the first team at FC Basel and played there for two seasons before moving to the Bundesliga.
But his country of birth was a topic in the Swiss camp this week. Captain Granit Xhaka said on the eve of the game the two had discussed Embolo’s roots, but Xhaka said “he’s calm and he’ll enjoy the game”, adding: “Hopefully he scores.” That’s exactly what he did.
Before the game, Cameroonian fans serenaded one of their national heroes, Roger Milla, who was presented with a special FIFA award on the pitch. But just over an hour later they were left to mourn a striker who got away as Embolo ended with his own slice of World Cup history.
2. Cameroon’s hopes hang by a thread
With Brazil and Serbia joining these two teams in Group G, this was such an important game. Three points and they’re still in contention for the last 16, but defeat means Cameroon will need to produce two of their greatest performances in recent memory to reach the last 16.
They had their chances after dominating the first half and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting was the focus of their good performance but also amid their missed chances. The Bayern Munich star failed to overtake goalkeeper Yann Sommer, while Bryan Mbeumo also saved a try when Karl Toko Ekambi fired the rebound over the goal. And they also had two chances that were thwarted by Silvan Widmer, who defended brilliantly at the last minute.
Cameroon were the dominant side but their lack of penetrating power cost them dearly and after Switzerland took the lead they comfortably controlled the rest of the game and should have extended their lead when Onana, Andre made some notable problems in the defense -Frank Zambo Anguissa and the outstanding Jean-Charles Castelletto.
In the last 14 World Cup games in which Cameroon have fallen behind, they have never managed to regain a win. And as the first round of games draws to a close, we’re still waiting for a goal from any of the four African countries, with Ghana set to complete the set later on Thursday. We saw all four explode from the blocks in the first half but couldn’t put a meaningful foot on a goal. Senegal failed to beat the Netherlands on Monday and ended up losing 2-0. Tunisia held a 0-0 draw with Denmark on Tuesday, while Morocco followed suit with Croatia on Wednesday. And then Cameroon couldn’t get past Switzerland on Thursday.
3. Switzerland needs to improve to get through
Cameroon’s defense was miserable for the Swiss winner. Embolo was completely unmarked in the middle, Nicolas Nkoulou was caught watching the ball. And absent a brilliant save from Onana, Ruben Vargas would have had to add an almost identical second 18 minutes later.
Victory was all that counted for Switzerland, but they looked less impressive than the sum of their parts. Although it drew attention from the likes of Xhaka, Shaqiri and Vargas, their final product wasn’t good enough and they can’t count on only countering against Serbia and Brazil if they want to progress. And while Embolo has their winner, they need far more from him. There were times when he needed too many touches to get in shape and it was during that time that the ball was stolen from him. Their defense also looked shaky at times, requiring panicked defenses to prevent Cameroon from breaking through.
Switzerland: Sommer 7, Widmer 7, Elvedi 6, Akanji 6, Rodriguez 7, Xhaka 6, Freuler 8, Sow 6, Vargas 5, Shaqiri 7, Embolo 7
Subtitle: Frei 6, Okafor 6, Seferovic 6, Rieder 6, Comert 6
Cameroon: Onana 7, Fai 5, Nkoulou 5, Castelletto 8, Tolo 5, Hongla 6, Gouet 6, Anguissa 6, Mbuemo 6, Ekambi 5, Choupo-Moting 6
Subtitle: Ondoua 6, Aboubaker 6, Nkoudou 6, Moumi Ngamaleu 6
Best and worst performers
BEST: Remo Freuler
Dictated played well in midfield and did well to take the spot in front of the back four with Xhaka and Sow higher up.
WORST: Karl Toko Ekambi
Ekambi had Cameroon’s best chance of the game and failed to convert when Widmer flagged him out of the game.
Highlights and notable moments
Breel Embolo takes Switzerland to the top and decides not to celebrate his goal against Cameroon, his country of birth 🙌 pic.twitter.com/7amWCNa9kD
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 24, 2022
After the game: What the players and coaches said
Cameroon’s coach Rigobert Song on Embolo: “It makes it more difficult, but that’s the game. We’re all proud of our country – you saw he didn’t celebrate his goal – but that’s an integral part of the sport. It’s me. I’m happy and proud of him because I think he plays for the Swiss national team, I would have liked to have had him by my side, but that’s not how it went, that’s life.
“I believe that in top-flight football you have to recover. Cameroon beat Argentina in 1990 but Argentina reached the final, so anything is possible. We believe in this dream and I believe in the next game.” will be crucial, and that’s where we have to throw our money into the balance with this generation.”
Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Cameroon is now on the second-longest losing streak in World Cup history after losing eight games in a row. Mexico tops the list with nine consecutive defeats between 1930 and 1958.
Embolo is not the first player to score against his country of birth at a World Cup. Coincidentally, it was previously another Swiss player when Fredy (Alfred) Bickel scored against Germany in the 1938 World Cup. Bickel was born in Eppstein, Germany.
Switzerland: Winning this match was key for the Swiss as it is one of the tournament favorites for them. They meet Brazil in Doha on Monday before finishing their group stage against Serbia next Friday in Doha in what is likely to be a crucial qualifier.
Cameroon: The African nation are now in a very difficult position and will almost certainly need to beat Serbia at Al Wakra on Monday to have any realistic chance of progressing. They finish the group stage against Brazil in Lusail on Friday.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/fifa-world-cup/story/4806882/embolo-haunts-cameroon-as-switzerland-claim-crucial-win Embolo haunts Cameroon as Switzerland claim crucial win