Switzerland World Cup 2014: Team Guide for FIFA Tournament

Andrew GibneyFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2014

Switzerland World Cup 2014: Team Guide for FIFA Tournament

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    Write the Swiss off at your peril. They go into this summer’s tournament in Brazil with one of the best defensive records in European football, and they will be expecting nothing less than qualification to the last 16. Once they make the knockout phase, it is going to take a very good side to eliminate them.

    Take away the eight-goal thriller against Iceland in Bern back in September and the Swiss Guard only conceded two goals in nine qualification games. The stern defence, guided by coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, has the back-up of a young, exciting, and unpredictable attack, and there is a good chance one or two of their players will relish the chance to shine on the world stage.

    Being drawn in Group E alongside France, Honduras and Ecuador, will give the Swiss a great chance to reach the next phase. There is little doubt they will fancy themselves as favourites to finish second behind France, but a good result against Didier Deschamps’ side could lead them as far as the Quarter-Finals.

    They will need at least one of their young forwards to find that elusive goal-scoring touch this summer; they won’t want the barren run in qualification to continue on to the Group stage. Back in 2010 they only managed one goal from the three matches. That was in the 1-0 win over Spain. They will be hoping for a more consistent and fruitful campaign this time in Brazil.

Road to the Finals

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    One look at Switzerland’s road to the World Cup and it is clear they have to be taken seriously this summer. Ten games played, seven wins and three draws, the most important part of that record is the fact that they remained unbeaten through the whole process.

    Even more impressively, the Swiss went through the 10 games only conceding six goals, with four of them coming in the classic 4-4 draw at home to Iceland. That means in nine qualification games they only conceded twice, a fantastic defensive display.

    Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side started the campaign with two victories over Slovenia and Albania. Norway were the main threat in Group E, so a score draw at home against the Norwegians wasn’t the worst result, and this was backed up with a 2-0 away win over Iceland to end 2012 on a high.

    Looking back, that away win in Reykjavik was so important over the course of the group. Iceland only lost one group game after the Switzerland game; if you reverse the result, the standings could have been a lot different.

    The Swiss reaction after the 4-4 draw at home to Iceland was very impressive—4-1 up with half an hour to go—there could have been a negative reaction, but Hitzfeld’s side finished the campaign with three wins over Norway, Albania and Slovenia to finish top of the group and secure qualification to Brazil.

Squad

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    Here is the 23-man squad that Ottmar Hitzfeld has picked for the World Cup

    Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg), Roman Buerki (Grasshoppers), Yann Sommer (FC Basel)

    Defenders: Johan Djourou (Hamburg), Michael Lang (Grasshoppers), Stephan Lichsteiner (Juventus), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Fabian Schaer (FC Basel), Philippe Senderos (Valencia), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Reto Ziegler (Sassuolo)

    Midfielders: Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt). Valon Behrami (Napoli), Blerim Dzemaili (Napoli), Gelson Fernandes (Freiburg), Gokhan Inler (Napoli), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Valentin Stocker (FC Basel)

    Forwards: Josip Drmic (Nuremberg), Mario Gavranovic (FC Zurich), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg), Haris Seferovic (Real Sociedad), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Moenchengladbach)

    For more detail, please see the player-by-player guide here.

Manager Profile

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    It’s hard to find new words or phrases to describe Ottmar Hitzfeld, the uber-experienced German coach has done it all. As a club coach he has won the Champions League twice, once with Bayern Munich, the other with Borussia Dortmund. Add in seven Bundesliga titles, two Swiss Super League titles and a host of domestic cup competitions. He is a tactical genius from the old school of coaching.

    Hitzfeld may not have won anything internationally, but that doesn’t stop him being classed as one of the all-time greats. He has turned this current Swiss side into a top-seeded team, lifting them to seventh in the FIFA World rankings and all without a proper scoring threat. It is an amazing achievement.

    In four years, Spain have only lost once during a World Cup or European Championships, and that defeat was masterminded by Hitzfeld during the South Africa World Cup. He is able to set up his sides in a manner which makes them very difficult to break down, and then if they have the attacking threat, they hit you on the counter. He is the Grand Master of the sucker punch.

    It is sad that this summer’s tournament will be his last foray in management. However, all the greats have to stop sooner or later, but let’s hope his side can do him proud one last time and the Emperor of football coaching can bow out with a wry smile.

Star Man

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    Bayern Munich midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri is ready to explode. He only managed 10 starts for the German champions this season, but he still managed to score six goals and add two assists. It seems like it is the versatility of the 22-year-old that sometimes holds him back, able to play anywhere in the attacking third, but without really ever excelling in one position.

    He is a luxury to Bayern boss Pep Guardiola, who labelled him his “most important bench player.” However, for Hitzfeld and Switzerland he could become a hero this summer. Defensively the Swiss midfield is one of the hardest-working teams you will see in Brazil. Their endless work rate and military-like organisation will help Shaqiri showcase his speed, agility and skill on the ball, there is little doubt that he will be key to Switzeland’s success.

    During qualification he managed to score twice during the nine games that he played. It doesn’t sound like a great return, but it did make him Switzerland’s joint-second goal-scorer. His partnership with the likes of Valentin Stocker, Granit Xhaka and Josip Drmic will be vital if the Swiss are going to surprise anyone at this summer’s World Cup.

One to Watch

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    Before March of this year, Josip Drmic hadn’t played a single game for Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side; just two months later and he is likely to lead the line this summer in Brazil.

    His stunning form for German side Nurnberg brought him to the fore this season. He finished the campaign with 17 goals, there was strong interest from Arsenal, per Jan Aage Fjortoft, but he will stay in Germany for now, signing a five-year deal with Bayer Leverkusen.

    Hitzfeld gave the 21-year-old his international debut in March against Croatia. The forward scored twice in the 2-2 draw and booked his place on the plane to the World Cup. His play in the Bundesliga has brought comparisons with Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, and it’s easy to see why.

    Drmic is able to play anywhere along the attack, he has the pace to play down the channels and he has the size and predatory skills to play on the shoulder of the last defender. He has the ability to finish with both feet, and is also a danger inside the box with his head and outside the box with his ability to hit the ball from distance.

    It is dangerous for Switzerland to plant all their hopes on this young striker, but they are drastically lacking a credible goal scorer. Drmic looks likely to score whenever he takes the field, the Bundesliga defenders struggled to stop him and it will be very exciting to see what he can do on the biggest stage of them all.

World Cup Record

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    Switzerland have never made it beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The last time they went that far was in 1954 when they were the host nation. They won two out of the four games they played and scored and conceded 11 times during the tournament.

    They started strongly as they beat Italy 2-1 in Lausanne, but lost the second group game 2-0 to England. They then had to play the Italians again, and again they were victorious, winning 4-1 in Basel.

    Their quarter-final game against neighbours Austria was a 12-goal thriller, the home nation took a 3-0 lead after just 19 minutes, but Austria would stage a comeback. Josef Hugi sealed his hat-trick in the 58th minute, bringing the Swiss side within one goal, but Erich Probst’s 76th-minute strike sealed the 7-5 win for the Austrians.

    Unfortunately, that was the closest the Swiss ever came to World Cup glory. They failed to qualify for any tournament between 1970 and 1990. At USA 1994, midfielder Georges Bregy scored the first-ever indoor goal at a World Cup when his 39th-minute free-kick found the back of the net at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit.

    A fantastic 4-1 win over Romania sealed their passage to the last 16, but they were then cannon fodder for the Spanish, losing 3-0 in Washington.

    They would then miss the tournaments in France and Korea/Japan before qualifying for Germany in 2006. They have qualified for three tournaments in a row now as it seems the times are improving once again for the Swiss national team.

    In the nine tournaments they have qualified for, they have played 29 games and won nine times. One worry for the Swiss people is that they have only scored 38 goals at the World Cup, that’s an average of 4.2 goals per tournament.

    Andre Abegglen is Switzerland’s all-time World Cup top scorer with four goals. He scored one during the 1934 tournament, and then added three in 1938.

    One of three brothers who played for the Swiss national team, he scored 29 goals in 52 international matches. He played for eight different clubs in Switzerland, Algeria and France between 1924 and 1944 and sadly died in 1944, at the age of just 35.

Group Fixtures

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    June 15: Switzerland v Ecuador—5 p.m. KO—Brasilia

    June 20: Switzerland v France—8 p.m. KO—Salvador

    June 25: Honduras v Switzerland—9 p.m. KO—Manaus