Switzerland have beaten European champions Spain 1-0 in the first of their three group matches of the 2010 football World Cup.
A messy goal by Gelson Fernandes in the 52nd minute gave the Swiss their first win in a World Cup opening match since 1954, when they beat Italy 2-1.
The Swiss were massive underdogs going into Wednesday’s match in the 62,760-seat Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, South Africa. Bookmakers had made Spain overall favourites to lift the Jules Rimet trophy on July 11.
Indeed Spain dominated the possession throughout the match and had several chances to take the lead against their Group H rival – notably Xabi Alonso rattling the crossbar in the 70th minute – but Switzerland's well-organised defence proved hard to penetrate.
Gerard Pique had a good opportunity in the 24th minute when Andres Iniesta's pass found him. The Spanish defender cut past a defender before Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio smothered his shot. Benaglio also saved shots from David Silva and Iniesta.
Switzerland had one long-range shot that was easily saved by Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Swiss defender Philippe Senderos was substituted because of an injury in the 36th minute.
Then in the 52nd minute a long goal kick by Benaglio was headed down by Eren Derdiyok, who ran onto the return pass and tore into a gap between Pique and Puyol. Casillas came out feet first and sent Derdiyok tumbling, but play continued and the ball hit Pique, ran loose, hit Pique again – who fell on it – and then broke loose for Fernandes to tap in from two metres.
Fernandes, a 23-year-old midfielder for French club Saint-Étienne, had converted Switzerland’s second chance of the game and given Pique a cut above his eye for his troubles. Casillas was lucky not to see yellow at least.
Fernando Torres and Jesus Navas came on in the 62nd as Spain looked for an equaliser, with Iniesta curling just wide in the 68th. Torres' entry brought an immediate impact as the Spain striker had several chances before Xabi Alonso rifled a long-range shot off the crossbar in the 70th.
Four minutes later Derdiyok hit the post, but Spain kept threatening. Despite five tense minutes of injury time, Switzerland held on and have given their chances of qualifying an immense boost.
One major Swiss supermarket had promised ten per cent off anything in its stores on Thursday if Switzerland won, and even Swiss politics was affected: deliberations in parliament were put on hold with 15 minutes of the game remaining so distracted politicians could witness the historic win.
At the final whistle, Fernandes fell to his knees and raised both arms to the sky. The entire team then went to the small section of Swiss fans in the stadium and saluted them as they cheered and rang cow bells.
It was Switzerland's first ever win over Spain.
“I’m really proud of the boys – they played a really intelligent game,” said Switzerland’s coach Ottmar Hitzfeld after the match. “We’ve taken a great step towards the last 16, but it’s going to be much harder against Chile.”
Hitzfeld paid tribute to Fernandes and Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, describing his goal-stopping ability as "world class".
"Today wasn't our day," said Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque. "We have two games ahead of us. We have to find a way to win them."
Switzerland were knocked out of the last World Cup on penalties by Ukraine in the round of 16 without conceding a goal in the tournament. The Swiss have now gone 490 minutes without conceding a World Cup goal.
Both Spain and Switzerland had a long wait to get their World Cup campaigns under way and were the last teams to play their first games in South Africa.
Although for Switzerland, the Group H match still came too soon. Experienced captain Alex Frei and West Ham midfielder Valon Behrami are both out injured and were unlikely to be rushed back with games against Chile and Honduras to come.
Frei, whose 40-goal international tally is a Swiss record, was hurt in the final squad practice before flying to South Africa last week. Inler took over captain’s duties. Behrami strained a left thigh muscle in Switzerland's final warm-up game on June 5.
Before the match, Hitzfeld said Spain had “the team of a century”.
Spain had won 27 of their last 28 international matches. Their only defeat in their last 48 games came in a 2-0 loss to the United States at the 2009 Confederations Cup.
"I think at one point we're going to beat Spain, so why not tomorrow?" Hitzfeld said on Tuesday.
Before Wednesday the two teams had met 18 times, with Spain winning 15, Switzerland none and three draws.
"We have nothing to lose and it's a huge opportunity for us. We could be one of the teams who make one of the favourites tumble."
Switzerland hadn't just honed their football skills before their World Cup opener – Hitzfeld has also trained his team to cope with the deafening din of vuvuzelas.
The German coach said on Tuesday he scheduled an extra public training session at the team's base in South Africa and invited local fans, knowing they would bring their plastic horns.
Hitzfeld said it was good practice for his players to get used to communicating on the pitch when their voices are drowned out by the constant monotone buzz of the vuvuzelas.
"It is good for the players to be prepared for what they will hear on the pitch," he said.
Defender Philippe Senderos said he was used to noisy stadiums from playing in England's Premier League with Arsenal and dismissed a journalist's suggestion the Swiss might be more used to vuvuzelas than other teams because they grew up with the noise of alpine horns.
"I don't think you can compare the two, but it is a very noisy instrument, that's right," he said of the vuvuzela.
"I think we've got to learn to live with it and adjust to it," he added. "That's the way it is and the way it's going to be until the very end."
Switzerland’s next two games are against Chile on June 21 and Honduras on June 25. Earlier on Wednesday Chile beat Honduras 1-0 in the other Group H match.
Thomas Stephens, swissinfo.ch
Switzerland: Benaglio; Lichtsteiner, Senderos (36th minute substituted by Von Bergen), Grichting, Ziegler; Barnetta (92 Eggimann), Inler, Huggel, Fernandes; Derdiyok (79 Yakin); Nkufo.
Spain: Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Busquets (61 Torres), Xabi Alonso; Silva (61 Navas), Xavi, Iniesta (77 Pedro); Villa.
Referee: Howard Webb (England).
Swiss match dates
June 16: Spain
June 21: Chile
June 25: Honduras