BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — As Haris Seferovic wheeled away in delight after snatching Switzerland’s dramatic winner against Ecuador, his euphoric teammates were split over who to celebrate with – the scorer of the goal or the player who had done so much to make it possible.
The name in the record books will forever say “Seferovic” but, to some, it was Valon Behrami who should be credited with Switzerland’s late, late goal in the 2-1 win at the World Cup.
“I grabbed him,” Switzerland defender Johan Djourou told The Associated Press, “and I said to him, `That’s your goal.'”
Around 15 seconds before Seferovic lashed the ball high into the net in the Estadio Nacional to send Switzerland’s small band of fans into raptures, Ecuador substitute Michael Arroyo was about to unleash a shot at goal inside the Swiss penalty area.
Behrami, however, came from nowhere to not only produce a brilliant and perfectly timed tackle but also to set in motion the move that ended with Seferovic’s clinching strike in the last minute of injury time.
Behrami charged upfield with the ball before being hacked down by retreating Ecuador player Carlos Gruezo. The Napoli midfielder forced the referee to play on by getting up and resuming his run before laying the ball off to a teammate. Seconds later, it was at the feet of Ricardo Rodriguez, who crossed for Seferovic to score.
Some players – and most of the Switzerland substitutes – piled onto the pitch to congratulate Seferovic but many others headed straight for Behrami, who was left at the bottom of a heap of celebrating players.
“I couldn’t breathe. If they stayed on me longer, I would have died!” Behrami said. “It was amazing. It shows the passion in our team.”
Djourou doesn’t know how Behrami had the energy for such a lung-bursting run, after 92 minutes of grueling action in the heat and humidity of Brasilia.
“How many times are you going to see a chance in one box ending up as a goal in the other?” Djourou said. “His display of determination, aggression was amazing.
“He could have stayed down. But he drove forward with 92 minutes played when he had already run I don’t know how many kilometers.”
Behrami, in fact, was poor for much of the game but that will be forgotten now. The same goes for most of the Switzerland team, which escaped from a nervy, subdued performance with three points and a great opportunity to advance from Group E.
Much is expected of the Swiss in Brazil after a run of just one defeat in 18 matches over two years that has lifted them to No. 6 in the FIFA rankings and a top seeding at the World Cup.
They will surely be better against France on Friday.
“I believe that this victory will give us strength and self-confidence to improve our play,” Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said. “We still have a way to go. We weren’t able to muster our full mettle and we want to improve.
“We were wrong-footed (by Ecuador). We were nervous, losing balls in unnecessary situations. The flow from defense to attack was not what we would have liked.”