AL WAKRAH, Qatar – Switzerland coach Murat Yakin had special instructions for Breel Embolo before their opening World Cup Group G clash against Cameroon on Thursday.
The 25-year-old forward was born in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, but raised in Basel. He would have been feeling conflicted but Yakin knew exactly how to handle the situation.
In the end, the Swiss edged out Cameroon 1-0 at the Al Janoub Stadium, courtesy of a goal by none other than Embolo, who was visibly apologetic as he refused to celebrate after scoring.
“We know his story. I told him before the game, ‘Breel, friendship until the start, then they are your opponents’,” Yakin said.
“Football writes such stories but he completed his mission. I am very happy with his performance.”
Embolo struck three minutes after the restart from a Xherdan Shaqiri cut-back to put them top of the group before Brazil took on Serbia in the later match – the result of which was not available at press time.
He did not want to celebrate his goal on his 60th international appearance, lifting his hands in the air and frowning as the small group of Swiss fans cheered wildly.
Yakin, meanwhile, praised his team’s overall display.
“This was a mature performance with a lot of solidarity from the entire team,” he said.
The Switzerland goal came after Cameroon had dominated the first half, missing several good chances to take the lead.
The Indomitable Lions, who eliminated Algeria in a play-off to qualify for the tournament, had outplayed the Swiss in the first 45 minutes with quick combinations, speed and power as their opponents remained toothless up front.
In search of their first win at a World Cup in 20 years, Cameroon were bolder, taking on their opponents in one-on-one situations, while the Swiss rarely managed to get into the African side’s box.
Switzerland, who reached the last 16 in the two previous World Cups, then struck at the start of the second half with veteran Shaqiri cutting into the area and Embolo tapping in what proved to be the winner.
Cameroon failed to replicate their first-half performance and were lucky not to concede another in stoppage time through Haris Seferovic.
“The next match is decisive for us. But we remain with our heads held high,” Cameroon coach Rigobert Song said.
“In football, when you dominate, you have to finish. It is true that we had more opportunities but we didn’t complete them. That’s what made the difference.”
Song was seen speaking to Embolo after the game and said he offered his congratulations.
“We know each other, he is my little brother,” Song said.
“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 still not brothers.”
The Swiss next play Brazil on Monday, with Cameroon taking on Serbia. REUTERS