For a country synonymous with watches, Switzerland’s team have developed an unusual aversion to sticking by the clock.
A late goal undid Group D’s top seeds in Saturday’s trip to Denmark, the third such occurrence of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
They host Ireland tomorrow in Geveva, with manager Vladimir Petkovic calling for improved mental strength among his players to eradicate the syndrome before it costs them a place at the Euros.
Late lapses seeped in from Switzerland’s first home qualifier against the Danes in March. Cruising into a 3-0 lead in Basel, they even withdrew influential Arsenal playmaker Granit Xhaka.
However, the Swiss imploded from the 84th minute when it looked like Denmark had pulled back a consolation. Two more goals were to follow, also from crosses, to expose their soft centre.
Likewise, against Ireland in June, they thought they had the game wrapped up when Fabian Schär fired them into the lead 16 minutes from full-time.
Petkovic admitted their habit of retreating deep into their box protecting leads urged Ireland on, leading to David McGoldrick heading home the equaliser.
Once was bad enough, twice was worrying but the third capitulation at the Parken Arena on Saturday was unforgivable.
Well on top, the visitors had created the better of the chances, hitting the woodwork twice. At least a point seemed likely until Christian Eriksen turned the game with six minutes remaining.
His incisive pass fell in behind three defenders for Yussuf Poulsen to race clear and finish past Yann Sommer.
Up next is the meeting with Ireland, themselves renowned for striking late. Mick McCarthy’s side claimed their draws against the Swiss and Denmark with headers in the final six minutes.
“Maybe towards the end of matches, there’s been a lack of mental strength,” notes Petkovic about their Achilles heel.
It’s more in the head because we played well enough against Denmark to have won by a few goals.
His sentiments were echoed by Schär, one of three central defenders in Switzerland’s rigid formation.
“Conceding that goal was stupid and naïve,” said the frustrated Newcastle United man. “We just cannot concentrate for 90 minutes.”
Denmark boss Åge Hareide admitted he used Switzerland’s weakness as part of his game-plan. Despite being dominated by their visitors, so long as the game remained scoreless, the Norwegian remained confident of an opening presenting itself.
“We knew the Swiss break in the end because that always happens to them,” said Hareide.
“I told my team at half-time to keep our defence strong as we’ll eventually get the chance to score.
“In modern football, teams must last the whole distance.
“Conceding those late goals can become a psychological problem. It seems to be playing on their minds.
“If teams keep conceding late goals, they cannot get it out of their heads.
However, I still think Switzerland will win the group. They have many quality players and Kasper Schmeichel kept us in Saturday’s game.
Schmeichel’s opposite number Yann Sommer agrees that an upturn in Swiss results is inevitable and predicts it changing tomorrow against Ireland.
He is adamant they’ve learned a lot from the 1-1 draw in Dublin when they failed to deal with an aerial bombardment in the closing stages.
The Borussia Mönchengladbach custodian is mindful of the threat posed by Shane Duffy coming up from the back.
“We know what to expect from Ireland and will be ready for them,” said Sommer.
“Of course, Ireland have physical qualities and will try test us with crosses, corners and free-kicks. We know about Shane Duffy.
“But we are confident that a similar performance to the one from Saturday will get us the right result. It was crazy that we lost that match.”
As the Swiss conclude the group next month by facing Georgia and Gibraltar in a double-header, a draw against Ireland wouldn’t be the worst of results. However, the top seeds have yet to beat either of their qualification rivals in the campaign and want to address that deficit.
“It was not easy losing against Denmark like we did,” says Sommer.
“All we can say is that their goalkeeper had a brilliant match and Eriksen made the difference with that pass.
That won’t happen in every match and I am sure we will score from those chances against Ireland.
“There is big motivation to beat Ireland in front of our own fans in Geneva. We have to stop conceding goals, especially late ones. That can be fixed.
“There is some pressure on us and we are determined to win our last three matches. That starts in Geneva tomorrow.”
K Schmeichel; H Dalsgaard, S Kjaer, A Christensen (M Jorgensen 85), J Stryger-Larsen (P Ankersen 79); L Schone (P Hoejbjerg 65), T Delaney; Y Poulsen, C Eriksen, M Braithwaite; A Cornelius.
Y Sommer; N Elvedi, P Schar, M Akanji; G Xhaka; S Lichtsteiner (K Mbabu 68), D Zakaria, A Mehmedi (R Freuler 84), R Rodriguez (J Drmic 88); B Embolo, H Seferovic.
Aleksei Kulbakov (BLR).