WorldCup Previews: Expectations high as Swiss generation reaches its peak

Sports Tuesday 05/June/2018 17:10 PM
By: Times News Service
WorldCup Previews: Expectations high as Swiss generation reaches its peak

SWITZERLAND usually arrive at major tournaments with modest ambitions but with one of the finest generations of players the country has produced reaching its peak, expectations are much higher at this World Cup.
The squad is brimming with players based in Europe’s top leagues and those such as Ricardo Rodriguez, Fabian Schaer, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are all in their mid-20s with a World Cup and European championship behind them.
Swiss football is reaping the rewards of the hard work done in youth development a decade ago which tapped into the potential offered by second-generation immigrants, many from the former Yugoslavia.
Coach Vladimir Petkovic, who himself boasts a Yugoslav league winners’ medal from his playing days with FK Sarajevo, has tried to establish a new attitude in the team, telling them they are no longer “Little Switzerland” and must look to dominate matches.
The old defensive tactics which bored fans rigid at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups have been thrown out of window.
The Swiss have jumped to sixth in the FIFA rankings, lost only one of 12 matches in the qualifying campaign and recently enjoyed a 6-0 thumping of fellow World Cup qualifiers Panama.
For all the optimism though, doubts linger.
Apart from Portugal, the Swiss have not faced any of the world’s leading teams since Euro 2016, a tournament where they never quite lived up to their billing and went out in the last 16 to Poland.
Some players have suffered a loss of form.
Schaer has fallen out of favour at Deportivo Coruna, Shaqiri has suffered relegation with Stoke City in the English Premier League and Xhaka, who runs the Swiss midfield, has been made the scapegoat for Arsenal’s failings.
The biggest problem lies in attack where none of the potential forwards have had a good season at club level, with first-choice Haris Seferovic relegated to a substitute’s role at Benfica.
Seferovic was even booed off the field when he was substituted in the playoff against Northern Ireland - a very rare reaction from a Swiss crowd.
The Swiss have reached the last 16 at their last two major tournaments but have not made the quarterfinals since the 1954 World Cup, which the country hosted.
An awkward draw has somewhat dampened hopes that they could take that extra step this time around.
With Brazil expected to top their group, the Swiss will battle Costa Rica and Serbia for second place, which would likely bring a last-16 encounter with defending champions Germany.


FIFA ranking: 6

Previous tournaments
Switzerland have appeared at 10 World Cups, reaching the quarterfinals in 1934, 1938 and again in 1954 when they hosted the tournament. They missed six tournaments in a row from 1970 to 1990 inclusive. They did not concede a goal in the 2006 tournament, when they lost to Ukraine on penalties in the second round, failing to convert any of their spot kicks in a 3-0 shootout defeat.

Coach: Vladimir Petkovic
Born in present-day Bosnia, Petkovic began his playing career by winning the old Yugoslav league with FK Sarajevo. Most his career, however, was spent in Switzerland where he alternated between the first and second divisions.
He began coaching in the Swiss lower divisions while working part-time in a Caritas charity shop.
He went to coach Young Boys, FC Sion and Samsonspur and then Lazio, winning the Coppa Italia. He replaced Ottmar Hitzfeld as Switzerland coach after the 2014 World Cup. He does not want his team to be seen as “Little Switzerland” and expects them to dominate possession against all opponents.

Key players
Xherdan Shaqiri: His impish skills make him Switzerland’s most entertaining and dangerous player. The 26-year-old packs a powerful left-foot shot and can also unlock defences with cunning, incisive passes. Scored a hat-trick against Honduras at the last World Cup and his bicycle-kick goal against Poland in Euro 2016 was arguably the most spectacular ever scored by a Switzerland player at a major tournament.
Granit Xhaka: Playing just in front of the defence, the left-footed Xhaka dictates the pace in midfield with his cool, measured passing and also offers a physical presence and is a strong tackler. Nevertheless, he divides opinion and is often made the scapegoat for the failings of his club side Arsenal. Sent off 11 times in his career, he also has a volatile streak.
Stephan Lichtsteiner: The team captain and right-back is known as “Forrest Gump” for his energetic running down the flank and his eight goals in 98 internationals are an indication of his impressive attacking prowess.

Form guide
Switzerland have lost only one match, away to Portugal in the World Cup qualifiers, since Euro 2016. They beat Greece 1-0 and Panama 6-0 in their two March friendlies.
However, apart from Portugal, they have been untested against top-level opponents in nearly two years.

How they qualified
Switzerland won their first nine matches in their qualifying group but were edged into second place on goal difference after a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in their 10th.
They scraped past Northern Ireland in a two-leg playoff, winning 1-0 on aggregate thanks to a hugely controversial penalty converted by Ricardo Rodriguez.

With Brazil expected to win Group E comfortably, Switzerland are likely to be locked in a three-way battle with Costa Rica and Serbia for second place.
The Swiss probably would not have chosen to begin against Brazil. They then face Serbia and round out group play against Costa Rica, who reached the quarterfinals four years ago.
If they manage to finish second they will face the winners of Group F - probably Germany - in the last 16.