Switzerland coach Kobi Kuhn has rejected claims that his squad are set for an easy, morale-boosting victory over Togo this afternoon in today’s Group G match at the 64,000 Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund.
Kuhn’s team, fresh from a deserved point gained in their opening game against group favourites France, will be hoping to put themselves in the driving seat for one of Group G’s qualification berths by taking all three points against a Togo side that continues to be beset by internal problems.
Guarding against complacency
However, despite the internal quarrelling that has overshadowed Togo’s first finals appearance, Kuhn is not expecting an easy victory against the Africans this afternoon – whatever the Swiss media may say. France’s unlucky but ultimately disappointing draw with South Korea last night should act as a warning against over-confidence – something Kuhn is hoping that his country’s media will take a note of.
“Anyone who thinks Togo will be cannon fodder is completely wrong,” he claimed on Sunday.
“Our journalists are getting carried away if they think we will simply be boosting our goal difference tomorrow. Togo are a strong team who qualified from a tough group. It is probable that we get more space than against France but, although we always try to play attacking football, we know that we are not goal machines. A win is the most important thing.”
Kuhn, who played in two of Switzerland’s matches at the 1966 World Cup, has only one injury to contend with as he approaches his country’s first ever meeting with Togo. Lazio midfielder Valon Behrami has been ruled out with a knee injury and is awaiting the results of tests that will decide whether he will be fit to play any further part at the finals. Full-backs Ludovic Magnin and Philipp Degen have declared themselves fit after recovering from their respective ankle and toe injuries.
One change to the starting eleven that Kuhn has been widely tipped to make is the inclusion of VFB Stuttgart’s Marco Streller as a partner for top scorer Alex Frei, who was deployed as a lone striker against France last week. Streller, who spent last season on loan at relegated Bundesliga side FC Koln, will be expected to use his height to create opportunities for himself and Frei and is likely to replace either Daniel Gygax or Raphael Wicky as Kuhn reverts to a 4-4-2 formation.
The ‘Nati’ come into this afternoon’s match-up as one of the form teams of the World Cup Finals. They are unbeaten so far in 2006, with impressive victories against Scotland and China being complemented by equally impressive draws against Italy, Ivory Coast and France. The three-times quarter-finalists (in 1934, 1938 and 1954 as hosts) have also been buoyed by their shut-out of the French, which amazingly was their first clean sheet in 22 finals matches.
“It was our first clean sheet, so we left Stuttgart with our heads held high,” Kuhn said in reference to the opening draw.
“France dictated the game but although we made a few mistakes we looked solid enough and had a few chances ourselves. We will now be looking to our forwards to show the world what they can do in Dortmund.”
The Swiss did have opportunities to steal all three points against the French, and will be hoping that their chances can be taken today. They looked particularly dangerous from set-pieces, with the usually reliable Frei wasting a glorious chance from Tranquillo Barnetta’s first-half free kick and then inexplicably handling near the goal-line right at the death when it looked easier for him to put the ball into the net.
Togo’s preparations for today’s game have once again been shrouded in the controversy surrounding payments due to them from their FA. Their German coach Otto Pfister resigned just four days before the opening defeat to South Korea, only to be reinstated on the back of promises made regarding the players’ payments. In the run-up to the second game most of the discontent has been voiced by the players, who right up until last night were threatening to boycott the Switzerland match unless money was credited to their bank accounts by this morning.
It has emerged this morning, however, that intervention on the part of FIFA means that this afternoon’s game should go ahead. A FIFA spokesman has explained that punishment for the first withdrawal of any team in the history of the competition would be severe and would probably constitute a heavy fine and a ban from subsequent competitions.
“As far as we understand the team did not want to play due to the problems surrounding the money they have been promised,” the spokesman said this morning.
“The FIFA delegate at their training camp told them that withdrawal would be extremely serious and that they needed to be reasonable. In the end they were, and we understand that they will be catching a flight to Dortmund later this morning.”
How much sympathy the Togo squad will find among their fans back home is debatable. The fact is that they were promised payment but, with the average annual salary in Togo standing at around £700, their demands for an appearance and performance-related package that could exceed £150,000 looks rather inflated.
Qualification a possibility
For his part, Pfister is keen to focus on this afternoon’s match and Togo’s attempt to gain their first point at the World Cup Finals. An examination of Togo’s performance in their 2-1 defeat against South Korea last week illustrates that such an outcome is not impossible, and it would result in Togo going into their final match against France with qualification still a mathematical possibility.
Togo took the lead unexpectedly against the South Koreans and more than matched their opponents for almost an hour. The dismissal of their captain, Jean-Paul Abalo, on 53 minutes changed the match and displayed a lack of discipline that has characterised plenty of African qualifiers at the World Cup Finals in recent years. South Korea equalised from the resulting free-kick and then went on to snatch all three points via Ahn’s winner later in the second-half.
Pfister’s main selection concerns ahead of this afternoon’s game have centred on his defence. Abalo’s suspension and a tournament-ending knee injury to Ludovic Assemoassa means that Pfister will be forced to make two changes, leaving cover very thin on the ground indeed. The exciting but inexperienced Assimiou Toure is likely to be given only his third cap as a result of these problems. At least the versatile and physically imposing 18 year-old will be in familiar surroundings – he currently plies his trade in Germany for Bayer Leverkusen and even played international football for the German youth teams.
Pfister is confident ahead of today’s game, and has been claiming to have an advantage over his opposite number due to his interest in and knowledge of Swiss football.
“I know their team inside-out,” said Pfister, who has a Swiss wife.
“If everyone is fit it will be no surprise how they will play. I now have to work out the tactics of how to play against them. For us this is the last chance and we must make the most of it.”
An intriguing sub-plot this afternoon will revolve around Togo’s star striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who is likely to be marked by his Arsenal team-mate Philippe Senderos. It will be the second successive World Cup match where Senderos has been asked to mark a club-mate, and he performed admirably in the opening match against France’s Thierry Henry.
Adebayor is looking forward to the challenge, despite admitting that stepping up to the very highest level has proved difficult so far for him and his team-mates.
“Philippe is a good friend and a very good defender and I am looking forward to playing against him in such an important game,” the 23 year-old striker revealed.
“All I know is that we will play to win today and are hopeful we can, but it is obvious that if you are used to playing against smaller nations like we are then the step-up is enormous. We will do our best to bring some joy to our people and keep ourselves in the competition.”
By Mark Robinson
Switzerland: Zuberbueler; Magnin, Senderos, Mueller, P Degen; Wicky, Vogel, Cabanas, Barnetta; Frei, Streller
Togo: Agassa; Nibombe, Toure, Tchangai, Agboh; Dossevi, Cherif-Maman, Romao, Kader, Forson; Adebayor
Referee: Carlos Amarilla (Paraguay)