World Cup 2014 Expert Interview: Discussing the young Swiss side and the experience of Ottmar Hitzfeld

As part of our World Cup coverage, we have interviewed journalists, correspondents, experts & writers representing each of the 32 countries to give you, the readers, a better understanding of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Here are the list of interviewees.

Switzerland World Cup Interview

For this interview, focusing on Switzerland, we spoke to Football Radar‘s Swiss football analyst, Charlie Stanton. Follow him on Twitter @FRFussballCS

Switzerland have one of the youngest squads in the tournament, with only three players at the age of 30 and none higher. But with an experienced boss as Ottmar Hitzfeld, certainly the side can compensate for the lack of playing experience. How important a role does a manager like Hitzfeld hold in a World Cup? What can we expect tactically from him?

As you mentioned there are only three players that are 30 years old however, there are experienced players within the squad such as Gokhan Inler (29), Valon Behrami (29), Blerim Dzemaili (28) and Gelson Fernandes (27) all of which play in the central midfield role so I don’t expect inexperience to be a factor.  Nonetheless Hitzfeld’s experience in such a competition is priceless. He is one of only four coaches to win the Champions League with two different clubs, and his experience in big competitions will be a massive advantage.

Having guided Switzerland to the World Cup in 2010 he has noted how much his team has improved and stated; “In South Africa, we allowed ourselves to get provoked and that should not happen again. We must play with a lot of discipline, especially against Ecuador and Honduras.” I expect him to set out to be difficult to beat and hard to break down – not allowing the opponents time and space and looking to use the pace on the wings as a source of counter.

Stats indicate that Switzerland have kept clean sheets in 10 of their last 14 World Cup games. Will defensive stability again be the foundation on which the team is built, or will we see a more attacking approach this time?

Defensive stability is definitely an approach Switzerland will use. With hard working central midfielders and solid centre backs they will look to keep it simple and tight in the middle. However, with Lichsteiner and Rodriguez as full backs and Shaqiri and Stocker on either wing they will look to make the pitch as wide as possible when in possession and exploit the pace on the wings.

 Some have suggested this to be the golden generation of Swiss football. How have the nation produced the current crop of young talented individuals such as Drmic, Rodriguez, Xhaka, Schar etc that has also seen them high up in the FIFA rankings?

With financial restraints on Swiss clubs they are forced to give youngsters a chance in the first team as they don’t have the money to compete internationally with transfer fees and large wage demands. It is common practice in Switzerland to sell a player for a large sum and then either only re-invest a fraction of the fee into a less well known global player all alternatively look to their own youth system. You may find my article on the Swiss Efficiency in the Transfer Market, more informing on the subject. Such youngsters have then attracted interest across Europe to further their careers and become the players they are today.

2014 FIFA World Cup Group E

As a team, Switzerland look like a fluid combination of talent but they seem to lack a world-class individual who turns up for the big moments and can prove the difference in tight World Cup affairs. Does the lack of such an individual concern you? Or do the Swiss possess such a player?

They may not have a player that immediately springs to mind as world-class however Shaqiri has to be considered a game changer. Irrelevant of his lack of opportunities at Bayern Munich he would probably be considered a key player for several other teams around Europe. Although he has recently suffered with injuries, he will be fresh from not overplaying this season unlike many others and with the team based around him I believe he has the potential to shine at this tournament. Players such as Drmic and Stocker also have the ability to provide that little bit of class when needed.

 For a team that has probably overachieved in the last two years (in terms of FIFA ranking), the pressure back home is more than expected. Will this have a negative impact on the side? How can it be used to their advantage?

Although their ranking is slightly high, I think the nation is realistic with their chances. Hitzfeld has said his aim is to make the last 16 which I think is realistic. I believe Hitzfeld’s experience has a vital role here; he will take the pressure off of his players and allow them to fully focus on the games and avoid distractions.

 We at Outside of the Boot track the progress of youngsters under our Talent Radar feature. Ricardo Rodriguez & Josip Drmic won the Defender & Forward of the Season respectively at our inaugural Talent Radar Young Player Awards 2013-14. What sort of role & impact do you expect from the two? Is their age a factor positively or negatively for Hitzfeld?

Drmic could be the real surprise package in the tournament. I think his age is an advantage, he will play the game he knows and with great service from the likes of Rodriguez on the wings I’m sure he will flourish. If he can score so many in a Nurnberg team who were relegated, I’m sure in a team with a positive attitude and with better quality of players around him he can only improve.

He will also be boosted by his recent move to Bayer Leverkusen. Rodriguez’s age again is an asset to his position. He will be expected to get forward and support Stocker on the left hand side and provide as much service for the likes of Drmic as possible. Both are 21 years of age and I’m sure they will approach the tournament as a chance to announce themselves on the biggest stage without fear.

 A lot of people have handed the dark horses tag to Belgium, but looking at Switzerland’s squad, one can only sit in admiration. How far can this team go?

For me this team certainly has the potential to surprise a few people along the way. However, a huge factor for them is to try and finish top of their group. A second place finish is likely to see them meet South American giants Argentina and that would be a very difficult tie. However, a first place finish could see them meet the likes of Bosnia and Herzegovina or Nigeria – ties where I’m sure Switzerland will fancy themselves.

To finish ahead of the likes of France in the group is a big ask but as we have seen in the past French national teams don’t always perform to their full potential in big tournaments and with a compact Swiss team it could be a potential banana skin for the French.

Read all our World Cup Interviews here, and all other WC2014 related content here.