Switzerland looking to rebound in World Cup (Group H team profile)By DPA, IANS
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
HAMBURG/ZURICH - Switzerland look to rebound from a poor Euro 2008 showing and bad luck elimination from the 2006 World Cup as they expect a tough battle for second place in Group H at the 2010 World Cup.
Reigning European champions Spain are top seeds in the group and are heavy favourites to progress as winners, leaving the Swiss in a fight with Honduras and Chile for the second spot in the Round of 16.
Advancing to the knock-out stage would be step up after the Swiss were bounced from Euro 2008 in the first round as co-hosts. And that result came after the Nati was eliminated from the 2006 World Cup in the Round of 16 without conceding a goal - losing a penalty shootout 3-0 against Ukraine after a scoreless 120 minutes.
The Swiss have reached the quarter-finals three times, in 1934, 1938 and when the country hosted the event in 1954.
But the 2010 Swiss squad has a different man at the helm as Ottmar Hitzfeld replaced the popular Jakob Kuhn, who had taken the Nation to Euro 2004, the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008.
“He is very calm and matter-of-fact. He’s very thoughtful and often takes players to one side to speak with us individually, which is very important. The relationship between the squad and the coach is very strong and you really notice his experience,” said Swiss midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta of Hitzfeld on fifa.com.
The 61-year-old German is a canny operator who knows international football inside out and is a proven winner - at least at club level.
After playing and coaching in Switzerland, Hitzfeld won the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
Hitzfeld saw his Swiss team start their World Cup qualifying campaign slowly with a draw at Israel and then an embarrassing loss at home against minnows Luxembourg. But the Nati righted their ship and did not lose another qualifier - winning their next five matches and six of the final eight - to take first place in Group 2 ahead of Greece, Latvia and Israel.
Hitzfeld’s side will have a very German Bundesliga feel to it with the likes of Wolfsburg’s Diego Benaglio, who is first choice in goal; Steve von Bergen of Hertha Berlin and Christoph Spycher of Eintracht Frankfurt in defence; Bayer Leverkusen’s Barnetta, a key figure in midfield; club team-mate Eren Derdiyok in attack along with Kosovo-born striker Albert Bunjaku of Nuremberg.
Even leaders such as Alex Frei, Marco Streller and Benjamin Huggel also have past experience in the Bundesliga.
Knowing that his defence is solid - just eight goals allowed in 10 qualifiers - Hitzfeld has a strong group of forwards, a fact not lost on Bunjaku.
“You can’t complain if you have an array of good strikers. They’re all good players and it keeps everyone on their toes. It gives you an extra incentive to bring the best out of yourself,” Bunjaku told fifa.com.
The coach: Along with Ernst Happel and Jose Mourinho, Ottmar Hitzfeld is the only manager to win the European Cup/Champions League with two different clubs after victories with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
A former striker who was a member of Germany’s 1972 Olympic team, Hitzfeld, 61, won seven Bundesliga titles and two Swiss league titles among 18 major trophies, making him one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game. Hitzfeld, who grew up and still lives close to the Swiss border, took over as coach of the Swiss national team in summer 2008.
The star: Alexander Frei has now returned to FC Basel, the club he played for as a youngster after a journey which has taken him to Thun, Lucerne, Geneva’s Servette FC, Stade Rennes and Borussia Dortmund.
Throughout a career often hampered by injury, the 30-year-old has maintained a high scoring ratio to games, with the 40 notched up in 72 games (as of end of October) for Switzerland making him the all-time record scorer for the national team.