Switzerland’s last two World Cup appearances, in 2006 and 2010, have hardly set the competition on fire. In 2006 they became the first team to be knocked out without conceding a goal after losing on penalties to Ukraine after a sterile 0-0 draw, and they only scored four themselves in as many games. Four years later, they managed one goal for and one against in three outings as they fell at the first hurdle.
This time, hopefully, it should be different. The Swiss will travel to Brazil with a young, attacking side which includes a number of players from the sides that won the Under-17 World Cup in 2009 and reached the Final of the 2011 European Under-21 Championship.
The Swiss federation runs a well-developed youth programme and has tapped successfully into the country’s large immigrant community. Several members of the squad are from families that moved to Switzerland from the Balkans during the 1990s. Players such as Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka, Haris Seferovic and Josip Drmic, the feisty Stefan Lichtsteiner and Gokhan Inler, give the team plenty of attacking options, not to mention bite.
In fact, the weakness is probably now the defence where Philippe Sendoros, Johan Djourou and Steve Von Bergen have all had unhappy experiences at club level. Contrary to the national stereotype, the side has become quite unpredictable. They can beat anyone on their day, as they showed with a friendly win over Brazil in Basle last year. But they are also prone to lapses such as the 4-4 draw at home to Iceland in the qualifiers, where they squandered a 4-1 lead.
Veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, who will retire after the tournament, has set the last 16 as his first target – a realistic if not easy option given that the Swiss struggle against Latin American opposition and must face Honduras and Ecuador. And he has already admitted that the heat and humidity will be a challenge for his side, who will have to adjust their pressing style.
Despite the respectable results over the past few years, Switzerland is not a country which is passionate for football and it is often hard to believe that the World Cup is just around the corner. In fact, the sport has an image problem in the country, thanks to the lingering problem of crowd violence and partly due to the goings-on at FIFA, whose presence is seen by many Swiss as something of an embarrassment.
Ottmar Hitzfeld (Ger)
Age 65 (12.01.49). Switzerland coach since July 2008
How he got the job
His appointment was the perfect marriage: giving Switzerland a successful, high-profile coach and him a break from the club game which had clearly worn him down.
Past successes as a coach
Won the Bundesliga five times with Bayern Munich, twice with Borussia Dortmund and the Champions League once with each.
Past failures as a coach
Lost the 1999 Champions League Final when Bayern conceded twice at the death to Manchester United. One of his first matches in charge of Switzerland was a 2-1 home defeat by Luxembourg.
Achievements as a player
Relatively modest, winning two Swiss league titles with Basle.
World Cup experience
In charge of Switzerland in 2010 when they beat eventual winners Spain in their opening match but failed to score another goal and went out in the group stage.
Relationship with the media
Revered in Germany and highly respected in Switzerland, despite the failure to qualify for Euro 2012.
Relationship with the public
As with the media, although it faltered slightly after failing to qualify for Euro 2012, when many questioned if his contract should be renewed and there was a public discussion over his salary.
Style of management/coaching
A qualified maths teacher, he prepares for matches with geometric precision and doesn’t accept indiscipline lightly. Made a point of appointing Gokhan Inler, a player with Turkish roots, as captain of the national team.
Notable backroom staff
Michel Pont has been assistant coach since 2001.
After the World Cup…
Offered a two-year extension but turned it down and says he will retire.
Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg), Roman Buerki (Grasshopper), Yann Sommer (Basel).
Defenders: Johan Djourou (Hamburg), Michael Lang (Grasshopper), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Fabian Schaer (Basel), Philippe Senderos (Valencia), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Reto Ziegler (Sassuolo).
Midfielders: Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt), Valon Behrami (Napoli), Blerim Dzemaili (Napoli), Gelson Fernandes (Freiburg), Gokhan Inler (Napoli), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Valentin Stocker (Basel).
Forwards: Josip Drmic (Nuremberg), Mario Gavranovic (Zurich), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg), Haris Seferovic (Real Sociedad), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach).
Standby: Marwin Hitz (Augsburg), Timm Klose (Wolfsburg), Silvan Widmer (Udinese), Eren Derdiyok (Bayer Leverkusen), Fabian Frei (Basel), Pajtim Kasami (Fulham), Pirmin Schwegler (Eintracht Frankfurt).
Group E Fixtures
Jun 15 v Ecuador (Brasilia)
Jun 20 v France (Salvador)
Jun 25 v Honduras (Manaus)