World Cup 2018 Russia – Michael Lang insists the Switzerland camp is more united than ever ahead of Wednesday’s key World Cup clash with Costa Rica in Nizhny Novgorod.
A win for Vladimir Petkovic’s side would guarantee its place in the last 16, while a draw likely would be enough if Serbia does not beat Group E leader Brazil the same day in Moscow.
Switzerland moved into second spot with an impressive 2-1 victory over Serbia in Kaliningrad, although significant controversy emerged from that clash.
Goal-scorers Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are facing FIFA disciplinary action after celebrating with a gesture that appeared to mimic the flag of Albania.
Both players are of Kosovar-Albanian descent, but the celebrations were viewed by some as deliberately provocative toward Serbia, a country that does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state.
The incidents also prompted some backlash from Swiss fans on social media, with the national team comprising several players either born in or with parents from other countries.
But Basel defender Lang says the criticism serves only to bring the players closer together in their hunt for a place in the knockout phase.
“Our team spirit has become even better,” he told reporters. “We’re a group. We stand together. These problems don’t change anything.
“We had a great atmosphere throughout the qualifying for this World Cup. If any of us makes a mistake on or off the pitch, we’ll help him to iron it out.”
For Costa Rica, the match represents little more than a chance to go home with pride, with losses to Brazil and Serbia in its first two games meaning it cannot progress.
Veteran Johnny Acosta hopes to do just that, given the boisterous support the team has had from its traveling fans in Russia.
“It’s a match we have to face with everything, and, above all, we have to try to get the result so we can leave here with dignity, with a win,” he said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Switzerland – Haris Seferovic
Benfica striker Seferovic has never been a prolific goal-scorer, but he really needs a strong performance on Wednesday, both to cement his place in the team for the last 16 and to reduce the pressure on Shaqiri to deliver the goods in attack.
Costa Rica – Cristian Gamboa
Having contained Neymar for long spells of the 2-0 loss to Brazil, Gamboa will need another top performance to check the attacking runs of Ricardo Rodriguez from left-back, as well as the in-form Steven Zuber.
KEY OPTA STATS
— Switzerland and Costa Rica will be meeting for the third time — each nation has recorded one win.
— Costa Rica is winless in its last four World Cup games against European sides (W0 D3 L1), scoring just one goal across those four matches.
— A loss for Costa Rica will mean that it will finish the group stages on zero points — only at World Cup 2006 has ever failed to pick up a single point at the tournament.
— Switzerland has conceded a goal in each of its last three World Cup games; it had only conceded in three of the previous 10 before this run.
— Xherdan Shaqiri has been directly involved in five of Switzerland’s last six World Cup goals (four goals, one assist).
By Joe Wright, SportingNews.com