The Swiss are confident despite injuries and other setbacks
Switzerland may be famous for clocks and meticulous punctuality but, at least in the case of the 2010 World Cup, time has not been kind to them.
Several of their top players have suffered recent injuries or loss of form, the tournament may have come too late for a couple of the older ones and it is still too early to draft in anyone from the squad which surprised everyone by winning the Under-17 world championship in Nigeria last year.
Alexander Frei, the country’s record scorer with 40 goals in 73 appearances, and left-back Christoph Spycher are both battling to be fit, while central defender Johan Djourou is almost certainly out after undergoing a knee operation in September.
While Frei and his strike partner Blaise Nkufo are both in their thirties, coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has already decided that Under-17 starlets such as Nassim Ben Khalifa are simply not ready to make the jump to the big stage. Even 18-year-old Xherdan Shaqiri, another with promise, needs more time and has yet to play a competitive international.
Hitzfeld made his name by winning a succession of titles at Borussia Dortmund
and Bayern Munich but now faces similar problems as his Honduras and Chile counterparts. With local clubs boasting only modest financial resources, many of Hitzfeld’s top players are scattered around Europe where they often struggle to get a game.
Philipp Degen has barely played a Premier League game since joining Liverpool two seasons ago and key defender Philippe Senderos, after falling out of favour at Arsenal, was loaned to Milan and more recently Everton, only to suffer a hip injury.
Reto Ziegler, who joined Tottenham Hotspur as a teenager, and Johan Vonlanthen, who became the youngest player to score in the European Championship back in 2004, have both seen their careers stutter after being shunted from club to club.
For all that, Switzerland certainly have a chance of following Spain through from their group. Hitzfeld, whose leadership qualities were once cited as an example to German business leaders, is a wily campaigner and a meticulous planner.
His team showed character when they bounced back from a 2-1 home defeat by Luxembourg early in the qualifiers to win their next five games – scoring twice in each.
Many feel that Switzerland, with a population of just over seven million and where football has to compete with ice hockey and Alpine skiing for attention, will be happy just to be taking part at their fourth successive major tournament. But don’t even think of suggesting that to Hitzfeld.
The view from Switzerland
“I hate to say it but the creative element is lacking. We could do with more imagination, more accuracy in our passing. On the other hand, the coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld, has instilled in the team his single-mindedness and winning mentality. Thanks to him, the players don’t suffer with doubts. What’s important is that the squad believe they can progress to the second round and beyond. Hitzfeld is not leading a sightseeing party to South Africa.“
Alain Sutter, former Switzerland midfielder