“If you want to help us, you can send some toilet paper,” joked Switzerland’s head coach, Nils Nielsen, before his team’s meeting with Sweden on Wednesday. The Swiss camp was hit by a stomach bug crisis on Monday, which saw nine players and 11 backroom staff go into isolation with “gastrointestinal symptoms” and training canceled.
Those affected included two starters from the opening game against Portugal. On Tuesday Switzerland traveled to Sheffield with 22 players, the sole absentee being the FC Zürich forward Meriame Terchoun who, alongside two staff members, remained at the base camp with hopes of joining up on Wednesday.
“This is also a first for me, how to deal with a situation like this,” Nielsen said. “We had an online meeting during which we discussed the situation. We also spoke about Sweden and prepared tactically. But it is not the same to do it online, where the girls are sitting behind screens and they can’t feel what we are talking about.”
In addition to Terchoun, the affected players were Eseosa Aigbogun, Rahel Kiwic, Svenja Fölmli, Seraina Friedli, Lara Marti, Sandrine Mauron, Julia Stierli and Riola Xhemaili.
It couldn’t have come at a worse time for Switzerland. While Group C remains wide open with all four teams level on one point, Nielsen’s side should be sitting pretty at the top. What looked set to be a routine victory against Portugal turned into an embarrassing second-half collapse for the Schweizer Nati, as their opponents struck twice in seven minutes to snatch a 2-2 draw at Leigh Sports Village. Switzerland had been organized, disciplined and clinical early on, scoring twice in the first five minutes to seize control.
But complacency began to show as half-time called, and the break brought no improvement. By full-time Switzerland could count themselves lucky not to have thrown away all three points.
Nielsen recognised the shortcomings but insisted the team’s hopes were not over. “I’m not disappointed with the tournament yet,” he said. “Yes, we screwed up that first game in the second half, but the situation would still have been the same. Even if we won, we still would have to win one of the last two games to go through.”
That is where the challenge arises, given that Switzerland face the Olympic silver medallists Sweden before facing the defending Euros champions the Netherlands on Sunday. Sweden have won all five competitive meetings with Switzerland in convincing fashion.
Switzerland know that they face a mammoth task at Bramall Lane against one of the tournament favorites, hampered by the disruption and subsequent lack of preparation. It would be naive to ignore the impact of the stomach bug crisis on top of the Portugal result. But Switzerland are no strangers to competing with the biggest teams, and will feel that if they can replicate Saturday’s first-half performance, they stand a chance.
Nielsen said: “With all these things of course it becomes more difficult, but it’s not impossible. If we can put 11 players on the pitch, we can still beat them. It’s just that the chances of beating them are getting smaller all the time if things don’t start going our way.
“It’s not an ideal situation at all but we are still preparing as best we can and making sure that the girls have all the chances to prepare themselves theoretically.”