Switzerland losing its way on the road to the goal
PARIS (AP) With a solid defense, a disciplined midfield and four points on the board in its bid to reach the knockout stages of the European Championship, Switzerland has nearly everything it needs.
Except a top-quality striker.
A 1-1 draw with Romania on Wednesday was both frustrating and all too familiar for a Swiss side that scored five minutes into its opening game against Albania - but still only came away with a 1-0 victory. And that was despite Albania losing captain Lorik Cana to a red card in the 36th minute.
Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic squandered four chances in that match and he followed up by missing two more against Romania, which was leading before Admir Mehmedi scored an equalizer in the 57th.
''We created a lot of chances. I don't think there's a team that has created as many chances as us in the tournament, which is a good sign,'' Switzerland midfielder Valon Behrami said. ''But we need to take a few more of them. We have to be more clinical, more relaxed in front of goal, stay calm and be accurate. It's something we have to work on.''
Although Blerim Dzemaili and Xherdan Shaqiri could have done a lot better with a header and an acrobtic volley, respectively, most of the blame for the lack of goals has to lie with the mis-firing Seferovic.
Fortunately, he still has the backing of his teammates.
''He makes the right moves, creates space for others, works very hard for the team and, as I told him, he just has to stay calm,'' Behrami said. ''It's a shame he didn't score, but he will get there.''
Mehmedi was equally supportive of the struggling Eintracht Frankfurt forward, who has managed only seven goals in his 32 games for the national team.
''He had chances and that's important for a striker,'' Mehmedi said. ''He runs for the team and you can't say he's playing badly. But in the end, if he scores, it's even better.''
While his teammates may have faith in Seferovic, the crowd's reaction when Cameroonian-born Breel Embolo replaced him in the 63rd minute shows the Swiss fans are not sure.
The 19-year-old forward was greeted with loud cheers as he jogged on to the Parc des Princes field, and his arrival certainly seemed to give his team a lift.
''I can't explain why the crowd are behind me . (but) I'm trying to do them proud,'' said Embolo, who has yet to start a game for his adopted country after 12 appearances and one goal as a substitute.
''We're a bit frustrated because we knew we had the chance to get six points,'' he added. ''But we've taken a step forward as a team, and as players, and we performed better than we did against Albania.''
Professional players know the value of positive thinking and Switzerland clearly has a good chance of being among the 16 teams to advance.
Switzerland's next match in Group A will certainly be its toughest yet, against France on Sunday. However, with a late 2-0 win over Albania on Wednesday, the host nation has already qualified for the next round and could pose less of a threat when the two sides meet in Lille.
While the Swiss need to find a cutting edge, there is equally no need to panic.
''We're lacking a bit of bite,'' Switzerland captain Stephan Lichtsteiner said. ''But I think the important thing is that we are creating chances. And sooner or later they will be taken. (and) with four points, when there are four third-place teams who go through, we've nevertheless taken a big step toward the last 16.''