Switzerland is known for its snowy mountains, chocolate and watches, but possibly not always for its football team. Yet suddenly, the Swiss national team is being spoken about in the world press as being a dark horse and a surprise package for the 2014 World Cup. So how exactly has this come about?
After failing to qualify for the 2012 European Championships, manager Ottmar Hitzfeld and his squad had hit rock bottom. With an ageing squad, Switzerland looked like they were heading into a tunnel with no light at the end of it. The pressure on Hitzfeld had been cranked up. After months of rumours, the Swiss FA finally came out with a statement; it was widely expected that the 63-year-old German would be relieved of his duties. Newspapers had gone into overdrive, speculating who would be next to take on what seemed to be an impossible job. Yet, the Swiss FA did something that would shock everybody. They had given him their backing.
In the first friendly since their decision, Switzerland travelled out to the city of Split in Croatia in what looked like an extremely difficult game. Despite the Croats being knocked out at the group stage of Euro 2012, they had acquitted themselves well in an extremely hard group, which included the two eventual finalists, Italy and Spain. For the game, Hitzfeld put his faith in youth and included young stars Xerdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Mario Gavranovic. Unbelievably, they ran out 4-2 winners, with Xhaka and Gavranovic both scoring. Little did the Swiss know that 14 games later, they would have qualified for the 2014 World Cup unbeaten.
So what sparked this quite sensational run? Well, the addition of the young players as they were maturing has certainly helped. Shaqiri, Xhaka and captain Gokhan Inler all got big money moves to top European teams as they joined Bayern Munich, Borussia Monchengladbach and Napoli respectively. Johan Djourou went out on loan and got some proper game time and Diego Benaglio found he had competition for the goalkeeping position from the meteoric rise of Basel’s Yann Sommer. The emergence of left back Ricardo Rodriguez and especially Valentin Stocker and Josip Drmic has been essential in this run.
Unfortunately, Ottmar Hitzfeld is known for being a little safety-first so whether we will see these exciting front players flourish remains to be seen, but if given the chance, even on the counter, the Swiss are deadly with balls through and in behind. They are also very strong on the wings.
The order of their matches in the World Cup is very important. They kick off against Ecuador on the Sunday 15th in Brasilia, where they really need to get a win. Next up for them is the key game against France, where they are expected to use their strong back line and then strike on the counter. Finally, in what could be the toughest game they have, they face Honduras. As seen in England’s warm up game, the rugged and tough Hondurans are tough to break down, and to add to this, the game will be played in Manaus, which as well-documented has extremely difficult weather conditions to play in. It’s key that the Swiss get something from their first two games because they surely won’t want to be chasing a goal against the durable Hondurans in such conditions.
It’s absolutely integral that the Swiss finish top of the group because the likelihood is that the Argentines will win Group F. The rest of Group F, despite not being pushovers, will be much easier to face than ‘La Albiceleste’. If the Swiss do finish second then they will have to face Argentina, whereas if they finish top they will probably face either Nigeria or Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Either way, the Swiss can do their country proud, and complete that remarkable turnaround that started on that magic night in Croatia.
This piece was written by Kyle Goldsmith, so feedback would be very much appreciated as he also wishes to go into sports journalism as a career. It’s a fantastic piece in my opinion, and any comments would be most welcome!