ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) - Switzerland were supposed to have progressed from the side who were involved in one of the worst matches in World Cup history yet have departed Russia with a performance almost as bad as the infamous game 12 years ago.
Ranked sixth in the world, the Swiss arrived at the 2018 tournament with arguably the finest generation in their history, boasting a multi-ethnic squad with considerably more individual talent and charisma than their predecessors.
Coach Vladimir Petkovic spoke proudly of a team that took the game to their opponents, dominated possession and should no longer be looked upon as ‘little Switzerland’.
But the end result, a second round exit, was almost the same as in 2006 when Switzerland went out on penalties after a dire 0-0 draw with Ukraine — a match that invariably pops up in any discussion about the World Cup’s all-time low points.
Just as they did on that dismal night in Cologne, the Swiss departed with a barely a whimper, giving a soulless performance as they lost 1-0 to Sweden in an entirely forgettable match.
Petkovic said his team had lacked emotion but without explaining why despite being pressed by Swiss journalists.
“Perhaps we were too convinced of ourselves,” he said.
It was a huge disappointment and left the uncomfortable question of whether this generation can ever fulfil their potential.
Switzerland should be reaping the rewards of a youth development programme that has tapped into the potential offered by second-generation immigrants, many from the former Yugoslavia.
Players such as left back Ricardo Rodriguez, midfielder Granit Xhaka, winger Xherdan Shaqiri and forward Breel Embolo were seen as giving them a cutting edge.
Four years ago, Switzerland also got to the second round and pushed Argentina all the way to the last minute of extra-time before falling to a 1-0 defeat, which was painted as a heroic failure.
After a second round exit at Euro 2016 left a sense the Swiss could have done more, Russia was seen as not only their true test but a real opportunity.
A 1-1 draw against Brazil in the opening match suggested this could, indeed, be their moment and prompted Petkovic to complain that his side did not get the recognition they deserved.
“I hope they start looking up and taking notice of us and taking us seriously,” he said.
That was followed by a 2-1 win over Serbia when some players were fired up by Balkan rivalry before a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica sent them into the second round and the easier part of the draw.
But against Sweden, they blew it.
“The final cross and the final pass were missing,” defender Johan Djourou said. “Sweden were not the better team, but we didn’t have the little bit extra in attack, and when you don’t have that extra, it becomes difficult.”
Midfielder Valon Behrami was more pessimistic.
“Maybe we reached our limits,” he said.
“I have the feeling that we are not ready for the really important games, or not good enough.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury