KALININGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - Switzerland’s never-say-die attitude and will to win was the key to turning around a match in which they had been pummelled by Serbia for much of the first half, Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said on Friday.
Switzerland beat Serbia 2-1 in the World Cup Group E showdown in Kaliningrad thanks to two second-half goals from Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri after they trailed at halftime in one of the most thrilling matches so far in Russia 2018.
It was fought at a blistering pace, with Serbia dominating much of the first half. But Switzerland came out storming in the second half and beat Serbia back onto the ropes.
“I honestly feel completely depleted,” Petkovic said. “It was an interesting match to say the least. We had a roller-coaster ride. They went 1-0 up and we found our balance in the second half.”
“We wanted to fight Serbia but initially we had problems with that.
“What is important is we have developed this winning mentally even when we are down. We always find a reaction, and this is an important and positive characteristic of my team,” he said.
The victory puts Switzerland in a strong position to qualify from Group E following their 1-1 draw with five-times champions Brazil. Both sit on four points with Serbia on three.
But the Swiss take on Costa Rica, already eliminated from the tournament in their final group game, while Serbia face the daunting task of having to beat Brazil.
Asked what he told his players at halftime, Petkovic said: “A healthy dialogue, or monologue if you like, was certainly part of it. I told them I would not be content with a draw.”
“After the first half, no one would have believed we could have turned this thing round. Even though we were down, we kept a level head.”
The coach also dismissed questions about the celebrations of his two goal-scorers, who are both of Albanian heritage. Some interpreted their gestures as a display of nationalism aimed at the Serbians.
“It’s clear that emotion shows up and I think we all together need to steer away from politics and football and focus on this sport as a beautiful game that brings people together.”
Though not generally counted among the world’s glamour teams, Switzerland are ranked 6th in the FIFA standings. They reached the last 16 in Brazil 2014, where they lost to Argentina.
On this performance, their time in the limelight may be coming.
Reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Hugh Lawson