By Brian Homewood
Stephan Lichtsteiner, whose marauding runs down right flank for Switzerland have earned him the nickname Forrest Gump, may find his style cramped by Ecuador’s pacey wingers in Sunday’s World Cup match.
The Swiss right back, one of his team’s most potent attacking weapons, could find himself bogged down with less-favoured defensive duties to help his side cope with the threat posed by Ecuador winger Jefferson Montero in Sunday’s Group E match.
Lichtsteiner, who has won three successive Serie A titles with Juventus, usually plays on the right of a five-man midfield for his club, giving him more freedom for his probing runs.
But Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld prefers him as a right-back in a 4-4-2 which, against teams such as Ecuador who attack down the flanks, invariably limits his freedom to charge forward.
Sunday’s match will also be played at 1300 local time and, with temperatures likely to be in the mid to upper 20s Celsius, Lichtsteiner may also have to dose his energies.
“When it’s 30 degress Celsius and you have to run 80 metres back, it’s a different story,” he said after scoring in a 2-0 friendly win over Peru on June 3.
Montero’s speed and trickery can make him unplayable on his day, although he is prone to inconsistency and frustrating tendency to go it alone.
The first-ever meeting between the two sides could be instrumental in deciding who finishes second in the group where France are seen as likely winners and Honduras are considered rank outsiders.
The Swiss side is considered one of the best the country has produced with nearly all the players based with top Serie A or Bundesliga clubs and has risen to an unprecedented sixth in the world rankings.
Boosted by second generation Kosovan immigrants, they are feistier, more confident and more inventive than their predecessors, although they still find goals hard to come by and tend to win by narrow margins even against lesser opponents.
Ecuador, taking part in their third World Cup, are strong going forward, with Antonio Valencia’s darting runs providing an added threat down the right flank, but have a soft centre.
None of their central defenders are playing regularly at club level and they have suffered an added blow with the injury to defensive midfielder Segundo Castillo, who played a vital role in protecting the defence.
“Ecuador are direct rivals for a place in the round of 16,” Hitzfeld told reporters at the Swiss camp in the resort town of Porto Seguro.
“A good start in the group will be decisive. They are outstandingly well-organised and strong technically. We can’t hope to score a single goal and win, they are far too strong for that.”