Add cynical fouling to banking, watches and chocolates to the national specialities as the Swiss bring buzzkill to what was shaping up to be a fun party. We forget that before they became the essence of neutrality and peace accords, the Swiss were best known for the mercenary armies, including a feared Palace Guard around a nervous French King. So maybe they were just getting back to their roots here.
1. Switzerland had a very strong performance from Sommer in the net; admirable bumping and battling from Rodriguez and Lichtsteiner on the flanks; a classic Behrami destroyer game in midfield; and the ever-ready-to-attack Shaquiri, always a fun player to watch. But mostly, they just spread their fouls around as they hacked at Neymar, spread their fouls around so no one got too many, relied on very lenient refereeing (it gave them a battered Neymar and a goal); and then simulated injury to kill the game off. Yuck--I'm rooting for their opponents all the way, because the Swiss can and will ruin a good game.
2. Neymar brought a certain amount of this on himself. If I'm the Swiss, I love the idea that he's picking the ball up behind the attacking midfielders. He's not Modric--he's a frontline player and he needs to be receiving the ball where he can isolate and run at defenders rather than trying to navigate the palisades of Fort Geneva. If he's making a move at midfield, just hack him down. He's too far away to get a dangerous free kick, and he's giving the backline a great breather by not forcing them to be on their edge at all times.
Neymar's got plenty of quality around him and needs to pick his spots to dribble, and look to combine more quickly. Every player on that squad can cause damage with all the attention he attracts. Perhaps more importantly, coming off a broken foot, he's not in a place where he needs to make himself an endless target. Yes, the ref didn't give him any help, but he has to know this is coming. And let's face it--he doesn't deal with it super-well. Messi is practically unflappable that way; Ronaldinho much harder to bring down; Pele too excited to play. I don't question Neymar's toughness at all. People have been taking shots at him since he was probably 11 or 12 years old. He's a phenom, one of those rare players who can skip by two players at the drop of a hat, and do it while oozing style. But he's not the sturdiest guy, and the more he got hit, the more he tried to break them down individually. They got in his head. So, Neymar: you've probably got some of the best 10 teammates in the world on the pitch with you--way more than Messi, way more than Ronaldo. Let them play their parts.
3. Has any player ever been helped by the massive savior complex? Ronaldo (the Brazilian) didn't fare well under it; Messi obviously hasn't; Beckham didn't (he looked his best before he was famous); and it's not good for Neymar either. Maybe Maradona, but he had a subpar performance in 1982; Ronaldo's had plenty of subpart World Cup games, and nobody really expects that much from him. Pele, but he stands alone and his game was always so inter-relational (as was Zidane). You've got to play within the game--otherwise your teammates are just standing around, creating no movement.
4. Brazil don't really play with a playmaker, do they? As many brilliant players as they produce every where else on the pitch (and apparently in goal, too, now), I can't remember the last time they really had a pure orchestrator. Curious.
5. Countinho. As soon as he took that touch, you knew how and where he was going to hit it, and that it was probably going in. I don't know if I've ever seen a player score what seems to be the same goal over and over again, the Groundhog Day of scoring, but he hits that swerving, top-corner shot in his sleep, while making omelettes, walking the dog, on the phone to his aunt. That said, this one was still extra-spectacular, the wide-bend and off the post. Great stuff there.
6. It was a foul by Zuber. At first I thought not. Then I watched more and became pretty adamant that it was. Maybe it's because it made a cynical Swiss side unwatchable. Their simulations were revenge for all the fake Rolexes circulating the planet. Complete zonal marking, though, opens the door to this, and a great corner by Shaquiri.
I think this is about right. It's not a hit piece on Neymar, who's silky brilliance is easy to see. But if I often agree with Steve Mcmanaman.
Brasil will be back, and better--but I hope they can keep Neymar a bit higher up the pitch.