DURBAN, June 16 (AFP): World Cup favourites Spain crashed to a shock 1-0 defeat to unfancied Switzerland in their opening game of the tournament here on Wednesday.
A rock solid defence and a tremendous goalkeeping effort from Diego Benaglio saw the Swiss take the lead in the 51st minute through Gelson Fernandes and sustain wave after wave of pressure to hold on for the win in the Group H clash.
The victory was Switzerland’s first-ever over Spain in 19 games dating back 85 years.
Fernandes’ scrambled goal was exactly the type pundits said the Swiss might score against a Spanish team whose slick passing game failed to convert territory and overwhelming possessional advantage into anything concrete.
A long, straight goalkick was picked up by striker Eren Derdiyok, whose path was blocked by an onrushing Iker Casillas.
In the melee, the ball squirted into the path of defender Gerard Pique who fell as he twisted trying to clear the ball, and the Cape Verde-born Fernandes was left with the easiest of tap-ins.
Derdiyok could have made it two for the Swiss but saw his prod with the outside of his foot rebound off the post in the 74th minute.
Spain will be left kicking themselves after dominating much of open play, while Vicente Del Bosque’s selection policy will be questioned after the positive impact of strikers Jesus Navas and Fernando Torres off the bench.
But the Spanish, fielding the backbone of the side that won Euro 2008, did have their chances.
In the first tame 45 minutes, Pique’s shot was parried by Benaglio, and David Villa made a real hash of a cross rather than shooting.
Benaglio, who saw key Fulham defender Philippe Senderos limp off with an ankle injury after half an hour, was tested more as Spain pressed in the second-half after going behind to Fernandes’ goal.
In short succession, Villa was thwarted by a diving Benaglio, Andres Iniesta saw a curling effort miss the posts by a metre, and Torres twisted and fired high and wide.
Alonso then saw a 30-yard bullet of a strike come back off the woodwork with Benaglio well beaten. Navas had a shot well saved by the Swiss keeper and went narrowly wide shortly after.
But the Swiss, often playing with nine of their 10 outfield players behind the ball, held on for the historic win and gave themselves hope of progressing to the second round, as they did four years ago in Germany.