It took a last gasp goal, but Switzerland defeated Ecuador 2-1 on Sunday afternoon. Ecuador struck first when Enner Vlencia nodded in a Walter Ayoví free kick in the 22nd minute. Admir Mehmedi, who entered at halftime, brought the game level when he powered home a corner kick sent in by Ricardo Rodríguez in the 48th minute. The game seemed destined for a draw until Haris Seferovic scored in stoppage time.
The final goal epitomized everything that's right about soccer.
The goal started with a clutch tackle by Valon Behrami on Michael Arroyo. While Arroyo sulked about the sliding challenge, Behrami quickly got up to initiate the counterattack. Despite logging more than 90 minutes, the midfielder was determined and saw a chance to capture the win.
At midfield, Behrami encountered Carlos Gruezo, who committed a foul to try to kill off the game. Gruezo did enough to force Behrami to the ground, but not enough to kill his ambition. After a successful tuck-and-roll, the Napoli player dished the ball wide.
Before we talk about the final moments that led to the goal, let's talk about the referee. Ravshan Irmatov was appropriately silent after Gruezo's hard tackle. The no-call was excellent and served a great example of how the advantage call should work. Behrami successfully recovered the ball without an issue, which meant that no whistle was needed.
It should also be noted that Irmatov allowed the play to develop despite the clock being seconds over the announced three minutes of stoppage time. The Uzbekistan native was again in the right because three minutes was a suggestion with the center referee getting to make the final decision. Irmatov saw an attacking play develop and was well within the right to keep the game alive.
The only criticism I have about Irmatov in regards to this play is that he never went back to issue Gruezo a yellow card. Gruezo clearly committed a professional foul at midfield, which should have resulted in disciplinary action. Yellow card suspensions can have a large effect in the World Cup. Gruezo clearly got lucky.
Back to the goal.
Switzerland quickly moved the ball forward by efficiently making the most of the extra space. When the ball got to Rodriguez, the attacking left back found a streaking Seferovic. The forward snuck between two Ecuadoran defenders while staying onside to score the game winner. Goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez had no chance as Steferovic roofed his shot from inside the six yard box.
The goal was a product of great resolve, intense focus and effective teamwork. The opening game of the World Cup is sometimes more about not losing then it is about winning. Switzerland left it all on the field on Sunday and they were rewarded with full points.
The tackle, the passing and the finish help explain why soccer is called the beautiful game.