Ottmar Hitzfeld, coach of the Swiss National Team, has assembled a good cast for Switzerland as they head into the 2010 World Cup. This is the first time the Swiss have competed in back to back World Cups since 1966.
Four years ago in Germany, the Swiss were able to get out of the group stage, but were eliminated in the knock out round in PK's by Ukraine. The Swiss were the first team in World Cup history to be knocked out of the tournament without conceding a goal.
They have been to the quarter finals three times, but their last visit came 56 years ago, when they hosted the World Cup in 1954.
Switzerland, ranked 24th, has been drawn into Group H, which is headlined by second ranked Spain. Chile, ranked 18th, and Honduras, ranked 38th, round out the group.
Assuming Spain advances as expected, the other three teams figure to battle for the one spot. Chile would be considered the favorite, but a head to head match between Switzerland and Chile may determine who moves on.
Here is a rundown of three strengths and three weaknesses of the Swiss National Team:
1) The managing of Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Hitzfeld is the former manager of Bayern Munich. He is only one of three men who have won the Champions League with two different clubs. Ernst Happel and Jose Mourhino, who of course just accomplished the feat, are the other two. Twice he has been selected as the "World Coach of the Year."
He is a calming leader who the the players listen to and respect. He can lead this team to overachieve, which is what they will need to do to play beyond the group stage.
He has been in charge of the Swiss two years now.
2) Three Quality Players
Alexander Frei, now 31, is still the leader of this team. With more goals than anyone who has ever wore the Swiss red, Frei still knows how to put the ball in the net.
Frei will wear the captain's armband in South Africa. He broke his arm earlier in the year, but has fully recovered, and will be well rested. Frei scored twice in the 2006 tournament.
Tranquillo Barnetta is a talented, versatile midfielder who has great pace. He can deliver world class balls into the box. He operates well on either flank.
Although not a great finisher himself, he does have great flair in setting up team mates, especially Frei.
Blaise Nkufo is a threat in the middle at 6'3". He knows how to put the ball in net, and is an imposing figure with his height on set pieces.
In 2006 the Swiss proved they know how to keep other teams from scoring. All through qualifciation for this World Cup they have played good defense. This will be pivotal, especially against the attacking Spanards and even the Chileans.
They don't panic when under fire, a trademark of Hitzfeld clubs.
1) Lack of a true world-class player.
Although Alexander Frei is the all-time leader in goals for Switzerland, and he is healthy and fit after his broken arm, he is 31 and maybe a year or two past his prime. Still a lethal goal scorer, and with more international experience than most of his teammates, Frei would not be considered an elite world player.
He is not a Torres or a Rooney or a Drogba or a Messi. The teams that tend to advance deep in this tournament tend to have an elite, world-class player on their squad.
2) History not on their side.
Switzerland has never beaten any of the clubs in their group. They have played Spain 15 times and never won. They have played Chile twice and never won, including once in the World Cup. They have never played Honduras.
And, as mentioned, the Swiss have never been past the quarter finals of the World Cup.
Two injuries figure to not help their chances in the tournament.
Defender Christoph Spycher and forward Marco Strellar have been ruled out by Hitzfeld.
Frei's broken arm does seem to be healed and he is ready.
Switzerland plays their first game June 16th versus Spain at Moses Mabhida Stadium.
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