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World Cup Analysis: Embolo propels Switzerland to victory in their opener

AS Monaco’s Breel Embolo began his 2022 World Cup in style by scoring the winner for Switzerland in their opener vs. Cameroon.

Carrying his impressive form for Les Monegasques into what was a unique occasion for Embolo, who was playing against the nation of his birth, he handled the situation superbly, with him putting in an excellent shift. There was also a particularly touching moment, when, after scoring his goal, he opted not to celebrate, thus underlining the immense affection and respect he holds for his homeland, which he departed with his parents aged five.

“We know each other, he is my little brother. We often speak to each other on the phone and I wanted to congratulate him. It is fair play to do so. Just because we are on different teams, it does not mean we are not still brothers,” explained the Cameroonian coach, Rigobert Song, after the match.

“He did not celebrate his goal, but this is all part of football. I’m happy for him and proud of him. He is with the Swiss national team and I would have liked him to be on my side, but that is the way of life.”

Proving a constant thorn in the side of the Indomitable Lions, there was much to like about his shift on the big stage, with his movement, ability on the ball, physicality and interactions with his colleagues instrumental towards his success.

An absolute menace with his intelligent drops deep between the lines and in the half spaces, this afforded him and his team a fine foundation to gain traction in their final third adventures. Able to bring others into play, draw out defenders and consistently provide a passing option for the ball holder, his impact here was keenly felt throughout his time afield.

With defenders often unsure whether to follow him deep not wanting to leave gaps in behind, this, in combination with his colleagues occupying the Cameroonian backline wide and centrally, often ensured he could receive freely.

It also warranted mention how he’d target gaps not directly in front of either centre back (but between them), thus causing dilemmas, for Nicolas Nkoulou or Jean-Charles Castelletto would have to move out and across to track him, which comes with massive risks in terms of keeping compact.

Nifty movement to get free between the lines
Pinning his marker to create space for Xhaka to run in behind
Astutely finding space between the lines as Vargas pins two defenders

Upon factoring in his proficient scanning, which granted him a regularly updated mental imagery of his surroundings, this heightened his effectiveness, for he knew if he could instantly turn, had to hold the ball up or needed to hit a lay off to a nearby colleague.

Wonderful lay off for Sow who targets the space made by Embolo dropping

Timing wisely when to check towards the ball and so aware of where opponents were situated, Embolo was also able to create important overloads in midfield to help the Swiss progress smoothly through the thirds.

Smartly dropping to form a 3v2 in midfield
Clever drop to form a 4v3

His smartly directed and executed runs in behind, down the channels and into the box were another major offensive weapon as well, for he’d shrewdly pounce once he spotted an opening. Whether it be peeling off the back shoulder of a defender, noticing if an opponent was ball watching or preoccupied or being awake to a fullback stepping out so he could exploit these zones, his aptitude here was a joy to watch.

Neatly timed run in behind
Superbly timed run in behind

A master at gaining separation to give the ball holder a viable option and a slick reader of the play, the 25-year-old posed a constant threat both when his team were looking to fire crosses or cutbacks into the box or through balls in behind their adversaries. Indeed, his smartly taken goal served as a testament to his quality here, for he astutely held his run to ghost in undetected on the blindside of Castelletto to supply a fantastic option for Xherdan Shaqiri.

Expertly finding space before applying his neat finish

Although his runs weren’t always obliged by his teammates, his nous was clear to see, with his runs also serving as handy decoys to manufacture room for colleagues, which the image below aptly illustrates.

Crafty decoy run to make room for Sow to run into box

Such a physically imposing forward, who stands at a towering 187 cm, weighs 88 kg and boasts immense strength, the way he used his hulking frame offered further upside. Aside from holding the ball up and occupying defenders, his aerial prowess proved vital too, with it ensuring he was a quality target man and reference point when his team wanted to go long to help his team regain second balls high up, plus offer a fine outlet for deliveries into the box both from open play or set-pieces.

Excellent headed knock down after dropping deep
Great movement inside the box before missing his header

Meanwhile, when it came to his work in possession, the former Basel and Borussia Monchengladbach star enjoyed many valuable contributions.

On top of embarking on some trademark powerful dribbles, he also passed the ball in a coherent fashion, in a game where he linked play with some lovely one touch passes, played a couple of incisive through balls in behind, switched the angle of attacks smartly and recycled possession if no viable progressive options were available.

Crafty through ball in behind

Leading the line with aplomb and underlining what a force to be reckoned with he is, Embolo was unquestionably integral towards his team’s triumph that ensured Switzerland still haven’t been defeated in a World Cup opener since 1966.

By the numbers, his 12 accurate passes at 75%, eight duels won, four progressive runs, two dribbles and two touches inside the box accentuated his solid body of work.

Embolo’s Heat Map vs. Cameroon

Embolo and co. will now rapidly turn their attention and recalibrate their focus to their colossal clash with Brazil next week, where they’ll be desperate to achieve another positive result before their final group game vs. Serbia.

With Embolo fully fit and firing and capable of changing a game in an instant with a moment of magic, Brazil will need to monitor him very closely indeed, for if they don’t, he could very easily pop up and tip the scales in favour of the Swiss – just like he did vs. Cameroon.