Friday 08 April 2022, 08:00

68 years on: Why Switzerland could make the quarter-finals once again

  • Switzerland have failed to reach the World Cup quarter-finals since a legendary match against Austria in 1954

  • They are set to face familiar foes from Russia 2018™ in Qatar

  • We look at three reasons why La Nati have a chance to make it through to the last eight

The last time that Switzerland progressed to the quarter-finals on football’s biggest stage was on home soil, at the 1954 FIFA World Cup™. And it was no ordinary last-eight tie that was played out at the Stade Olympique de la Pontaise in Lausanne, between the host nation and neighbours Austria. A number of the players suffered from the heat, which peaked at 40°C that day. Austrian goalkeeper Kurt Schmied went down with heatstroke early on and staggered around between the posts for the rest of the match, as substitutes were not permitted back in those days.

Kurt Schmied 1954

What followed was a free-for-all between the two teams. Switzerland took a 3-0 lead only for Austria to turn things and go in at the break 5-4 ahead. Yes, there were nine goals in the first half – the first eight coming between the 16th and the 34th minute in the space of little over a quarter of an hour.

By the time the final whistle blew, Austria had made it through to the last four with a 7-5 win, but that was as far as they would go, with eventual winners West Germany getting the better of them in the semi-finals.

26th June, 1954, Austria 7 v Switzerland 5, Swiss goalkeeper parlier dives at the feet of Austrian striker Wagner to stop him scoring

The 'Heat Battle of Lausanne' as it is known set a record unequalled to this day, with the most goals ever (12) in a World Cup match. It was also the last time that Switzerland made it through to the quarter-finals. Since then, La Nati have reached the Round of 16 on four occasions without ever going further.

There was particular heartbreak for the Swiss at Germany 2006, when the team did not concede a single goal but went out to Ukraine on penalties. That set another record that still stands, with Pascal Zuberbuhler letting in the fewest goals at a World Cup.

Pascal Zuberbuhler of Switzerland celebrates

In Qatar, Switzerland have been drawn in a group just as tough as they found themselves in four years ago in Russia, where they were up against Brazil, Serbia and Costa Rica. Back then, they finished second but went out in the Round of 16 to Sweden. In Qatar this November and December, they will once again cross swords with Brazil and Serbia, while Cameroon will be their other group-stage opponents this time around. So what makes us think La Nati could finally get through to the last eight once again, 68 years after that 7-5 defeat to Austria? We have come up with three reasons why they stand a good chance of progressing in Qatar.

The human wall

To say that Yann Sommer is a reliable backstop is an understatement. He was already one of the stand-out players in the Swiss squad at the World Cup in 2018, and in qualifying for Qatar 2022™, the 33-year-old conceded just two goals in eight matches.

Tough to beat on the biggest of stages

While the team may have struggled to overcome the Round-of-16 hurdle, Switzerland nevertheless have an impressive record at recent World Cups. The last four times that they have qualified, they have played 15 matches and lost only three of them in the regulation 90 minutes.

On a roll

In their last 21 matches, Switzerland have won 11 and drawn eight. The only two defeats during that time came at the UEFA EURO 2020 against eventual winners Italy, and in a friendly this March against England. Switzerland went through qualifying for Qatar 2022 unbeaten, consigning Italy into second place in the group.