SALVADOR — Switzerland may not be one of the most talked about teams heading in to World Cup 2014, but they still have the potential required to emerge from Group E. Although they’re a side lacking in experienced goalscorers, they do have enough strengths to trouble Ecuador, neighbours France and Honduras.
Their greatest quality lies in the left foot of Xherdan Shaqiri. World Cups tends to be a stage for individual talents. Most teams at this tournament have their undisputed star. Brazil have Neymar, Argentina have Messi, and Switzerland have Shaqiri. Although his reputation and ability is not quite at that world class level, this could be a breakout tournament for the Bayern Munich winger.
With his club side, he is inevitably overshadowed by the more experienced Arjen Robben. The two players share many qualities: both prefer to dribble infield from the right flank before unleashing shots with their devastating left feet.
While Shaqiri has grown accustomed to playing in Robben’s shadow in Germany, Brazil will see him unencumbered by the presence of a more celebrated alternative. Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld intends to build his team around Shaqiri’s talents.
That much was made clear by the fact that he was the only first XI player to be left on the bench for the final friendly of Switzerland’s World Cup preparation. It was just too big a risk to start him. Typically, he came off the bench to create and score a goal. Shaqiri is Switzerland’s game-breaker. His left foot is a not-so-secret weapon they will hope can propel them to the knockout stages.
The pressure in his homeland will be immense. However, Shaqiri has the kind of personality required to thrive in that environment. If he wants to be the main man for club and country, he needs to seize this opportunity to shine.
If Shaqiri’s creativity provides the Swiss with their greatest threat, it is the lack of a cutting edge that stands to be their biggest weakness. Since the international retirement of Alexander Frei, Switzerland have lacked a clinical goalscorer.
Frei finished with a remarkable record of 42 goals in 86 caps, and none of the current crop can boast anything like that kind of goalscoring ratio. What’s more, at his peak he was ably supported by the selfless target man Marco Streller. This time round, Switzerland have decided to leave their most seasoned international front-man, Eren Derdiyok, at home.
In the absence of a grizzled veteran, 21-year old Josip Drmic will attempt to take up the responsibility for firing Switzerland through the group. It’s a calculated gamble to ask Drmic to lead the line: he is inexperienced at this level but precociously-gifted. 17 Bundesliga goals have earned him a switch to Bayer Leverkusen, and there is a sense he could follow Shaqiri as Switzerland’s next major talent.
If Drmic can blossom, then Switzerland’s greatest weakness could yet be converted to a strength.