A combination of Kieffer Moore's equaliser and goalkeeper Danny Ward's brilliance earned Cymru a share of the points at the Olympic Stadium in Baku on Saturday.
UEFA EURO 2020
Cymru 1-1 Switzerland
- Embolo 49', Moore 74'
- Olympic Stadium, Baku
It was an encouraging start from Cymru as Daniel James showed his quality on the left as he delivered a superb ball for Kieffer Moore to head back towards goal on 15 minutes, but the striker was denied by a fine save from Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer. However, despite the positivity of the play, it would be Cymru's only effort in the opening half.
At the other end, Danny Ward had to think fast to save with his feet as Fabian Schär back-heeled a cross from a corner towards goal midway through the half. The chance sparked a long period of dominance for Switzerland, with Haris Seferović coming close to opening the scoring with three separate opportunities before the half-time whistle, but the striker failed to hit the target on each occasion.
Minutes after the restart, Breel Embolo forced Ward into making a fine save, and then scored with a header from the resulting corner to put Switzerland ahead. Despite the setback, Cymru enjoyed their best spell of the game, and the equaliser eventually arrived when the bandaged Kieffer Moore rose above the Swiss defence to head home a cross from Joe Morrell after 74 minutes.
Mario Gavranović thought he had won the match for Switzerland on 85 minutes, but the substitute was adjudged offside by VAR after slotting the ball past Ward. Minutes later, Ward once again had to be at his best to deny Embolo from scoring a second when he tipped his header over the bar from another Swiss corner, and with it ensure that Cymru would take a point from this opening game.
Defensive partnership – The defensive pairing of Joe Rodon and Chris Mepham withstood wave after wave of Swiss pressure in the opening half as their extra man in midfield allowed them to deliver a number of testing crosses into the area. Rodon and Mepham showed a clear understanding from their time coming through the ranks together in the intermediate teams, and looked solid and composed in frustrating Switzerland. However, the duo struggled to contain Breel Embolo and his penetrative central runs from deep positions.
Pace of Daniel James – It's no secret that the strength of Daniel James' game is in his incredible pace and ability to take on defenders. Although his opportunities were limited in this opening match of the tournament, James showed glimpses of what could prove to be Cymru's most effective weapon if the side are to make it out of Group A. It was James' pace that resulted in Fabian Schär and Kevin Mbabu being booked as they both failed to contain the Manchester United winger.
Exceptional performance by Danny Ward – After impressing in the pre-tournament friendly against France, Danny Ward was selected ahead of Wayne Hennessey, and the goalkeeper put in another superb individual performance to deny Switzerland with a series of fine saves. Tipping the ball over the bar from a Breel Embolo header on 90 minutes could prove to be a defining moment if Cymru can progress through the group.
“It's great personally. I think it's a good start for us but we would have liked to win, but to get a draw from the first game and put ourselves in a good position is everything for us. For us to see the game out was also a big positive. It was tough out there, but that's what we expected. This is big occasion, and I've loved every second of it.” - Goalscorer Kieffer Moore speaking to BBC Sport.
“We wanted a positive start and it feels like a win in the changing room. We had to dig deep at the end and we had a little bit of luck with the offside as well. We wanted a positive performance and I certainly got that from them. Switzerland we knew were going to have a lot of the ball with how they play, so we knew we had to be solid and well-organised defensively and I thought we did that in the first half. We became a bit too stretched and they took advantage of that.”
Manager Rob Page speaking to BBC Sport.
Cymru were up against it for long periods in this match, and despite cutting a frustrated figure as he worked tirelessly alone in the final third, Kieffer Moore had his reward when he headed home a Joe Morrell cross to salvage a point from the game. The fact that Danny Ward had to be at his brilliant best will be a concern for Rob Page as much as a positive to take from the game, while the outnumbering of Cymru in midfield is likely to lead to a few tactical tweaks ahead of the crucial game against Turkey on Wednesday.
Avoiding defeat in the opening game was important for Cymru, and Page and his squad will know that they have a big opportunity in the second match to build on this opening point. The strength in depth of the squad means that Page does have a number of options available to him to address any immediate concerns, and the manger has an important few days ahead in order to ensure his side are ready for the next challenge.
Cymru XI: Ward (GK), B.Davies, Rodon, Allen, Ramsey (Ampadu 93), Bale (c), Moore, C.Roberts, Morrell, James (Brooks 75), Mepham.
Subs: Hennessey (GK), A.Davies (GK), Gunter, N.Williams, Lockyer, Wilson, T.Roberts, Norrington-Davies, J.Williams, Levitt.
The pre-match debate had centred around the selection of Kieffer Moore and the striker was handed a place in the starting line-up as Rob Page made the surprise decision to revert to a back four and play with a recognised forward. Joe Morrell was included over Ethan Ampadu in the defensive midfield role alongside Joe Allen, while the defensive reshape meant that Neco Williams would also have to settle for a place on the bench.
Switzerland XI: Sommer (GK), Mbabu, Elvedi, Akanji, Embolo, Freuler, Seferović (Gavranović 84), Xhaka (c), Rodríguez, Schär, Shaqiri.
Subs: Mvogo (GK), Omlin (GK), Widmer, Zakaria, Vargas, Zuber, Sow, Fassnacht, Benito, Mehmedi, Cömert.
The biggest surprise in manager Vladimir Petković's team selection was not to include in-form striker Mario Gavranović in the starting line-up. However, Petković remained committed to his usual tactical preference with a back three, while Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo would support Haris Seferović at the other end of the field.