Nickname: Schweizer Nati
Schedule: June 15 vs. Ecuador, June 20 vs. France, June 25 vs. Honduras
World Cup History: Quarterfinals (1934, 1938, 1954), Round of 16 (1994, 2006)
Rankings: FIFA (6), Elo (14)
Winning Odds: 100-1
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One does not want to read too much into a soccer culture based on national culture. But… The Swiss are industrious. They have a strong defense and tactical discipline. They offer little in the way of individualism or creativity. Switzerland beat Spain in the first match in South Africa, then failed to score against Honduras and were eliminated in the group stage.
Qualifying Form: Switzerland earned an automatic place, winning UEFA Qualifying Group E. They edged Iceland by seven points, with a 7-0-3 record and a +11 goal difference. Four of their six goals allowed came in once match. The Swiss had seven clean sheets.
Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld. When your nickname is “Gottmar,” you are kind of a big deal. The 65-year-old German is one of Europe’s greatest club coaches ever. He has won nine league titles. He lifted the Champions League Trophy with Borussia Dortmund (1997) and Bayern Munich (2001). He joined Switzerland in 2008, took them to the group stage in 2010 and failed to qualify them for Euro 2012.
Tactics: Hitzfeld is regarded as a masterful tactician. The Swiss play a robust 4-2-3-1. They press on the ball high up the pitch. They are also fairly adept on the ball and look to counterattack quickly.
Player to Watch: Xherdan Shaqiri. The 22-year-old is a quick, skillful, Terrier-like attacking midfielder. He struggles to get regular games at Bayern Munich, but playing the same position as Robben and Ribery will do that. He normally plays on the right wing for Switzerland. Brilliance from him going forward will be critical, for a not especially potent Swiss side.
Squad: The Swiss have a solid blend of youth, depth, experience and talent. No one selected to the 23-man squad is older than 30. Wolfsburg’s Diego Benaglio is fronted by a capable back four, including Juventus’ Stephan Lichtsteiner. The strength of the team is in central midfield with veteran, deep-lying midfielders Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami. They are strong, protect the back well and create going forward. They also have continuity, playing together at club level for Napoli.
There’s ample ability in the three-man bank of attacking midfielders as well with Shaqiri and 21-year-old Granit Xhaka. Switzerland’s weakness is up front. They don’t have a proven forward. The four they will bring to Brazil have nine goals in 50 national team appearances, combined. Switzerland should be in every game. It’s just a question of scoring.
Group Outlook: This group lines up favorably for the Swiss. Ecuador is the worst team from CONMEBOL. Honduras is the worst team from CONCACAF. The French team is…downright mercurial, and just lost Franck Ribery. Switzerland should be favorites to advance, at least. How far beyond that depends on how they finish. Winning the group lines up Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran or Nigeria. Finishing second sets up a probable date with Lionel Messi and Argentina.
Arbitrary Swiss Power Rankings:
1. John Calvin 2. Roger Federer 3. Friedrich Durrenmatt 4. William Tell 5. Carl Jung …. 9,743,904. Sepp Blatter
[Photo via AP]