Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland are one of the eight seeded teams at the World Cup. An unbeaten WC qualification record in Europe saw the Swiss rising into the seventh position in the FIFA rankings, having one of the best defensive records in the qualification phase across Europe. Drawn in Group E Switzerland begin their world cup journey on 15 June 2014 against Ecuador, then facing fellow European compatriots France on 20th June 2014 and finally Honduras on 25th June 2014.
Unlike the previous World Cup where they were eliminated in the first round even after beating eventual winners Spain, this Switzerland side will fancy their chances of going into the knock out stage where a possible clash against a team from Group F (Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria and Iran) awaits.
No doubt Switzerland are favorites to progress from the group alongside France. But the key to progression can very much depend on their first match against Ecuador. Both of these teams will compete for the second spot; however a good result in the first match followed by a surprise against France can set Switzerland up to look further into the tournament, as that way they can avoid a possible clash against Argentina.
Hitzfield will, in all probability, set his side up in a 4-2-3-1, aiming to unleash his quick wingers on the break, and allow his full backs to get forward as often as possible.
Diego Benaglio is the undisputed number one between the goalposts; the 30 year old Wolfsburg goalkeeper had a good season in the Bundesliga. He has been the number one choice for the national team for quite some time. Benaglio featured in the 23 man Swiss squad in the WC 2006 in Germany, where he was the third choice goalkeeper. However he quickly established himself as number one since 2008. He featured as the first choice goalkeeper in Euro 2008 and WC 2010. The 6 feet 4 inch tall goalkeeper is one of the cornerstones of Switzerland’s impressive defensive record.
The central defense remains a major weakness of the Swiss team. Even though they conceded only 6 goals in the qualification campaign, let’s not forget they had a relatively easy group consisting of modest opponents like Iceland, Slovenia, Norway, Albania and Cyprus. They have experienced centre backs like Djourou, Senderos and von Bergen. However Both Senderos and Djourou had tough seasons as Djourou closely survived relegation with Hamburg and Senderos only featured five times for Valencia after his move in January from Fulham. On the other hand, the youngster Fabian Schar of Basel has been impressive both for the national team and the club. His goal scoring ability in particular provides an interesting option for the coach of a traditionally goal shy team.Fabian Schar’s form puts him ahead of the rest but he lacks experience. Hitzfield will have to work hard to find the best defensive pairing for the team.
The coach has preferred youth to experience in the Swiss team and so far the risk has paid off well for the team. Therefore expect Schaer pairing up with either Senderos or Djourou at the heart of the defense, the former is the likely candidate of the two. Schaer and Senderos will provide a mix of youth and experience for the team.
Hitzfeld wingbacks are a key strength of the team; Stephan Lichsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez will occupy the right back and left back spot. Rising Star Ricardo Rodriguez is going to face stiff competition from the likes of the experienced Reto Zeigler, but he should start anyway, on the back of the season he’s had. Lichsteiner has established himself as one the best full backs in Serie A with Juventus. The right back is full of energy and often overlaps the right wingers to provide an attacking threat. His understanding with Shaqiri is getting better and better as they continue to play together for the national team. Lichsteiner’s crossing ability in particular is very good; his great energy also helps him to track back on time. He is undoubtedly one of the key men in the Swiss team.
Captain Gokhan Inler will be paired in the central midfield with club team mate Blerim Dzemaili. The due won the Coppa Italia with Napoli this year. They make a great pair and being club team mates makes thing easier as they have a thorough understanding of each other’s game. In case Switzerland switches to 4-3-3 formation, Valon Behrami is likely to come on, and he too, plays for Napoli.
Together they provide a solid midfield that can shield a somewhat shaky defense. Expect them to track back often as Switzerland would try not to concede a goal and try to counter through the speedsters on the flanks. The central midfielders’ understanding and switching of positions will pose a major threat to their opponents’ control of the ball.
Shaqiri and Stocker will play as right and left winger respectively. Both of them offer plenty of pace on the wings and love to cut inside to make room for the flying wing backs. Xherdan Shaqiri struggled to make it into the starting eleven in the star studded Bayern Munich team, where the wings are generally occupied by Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery or Thomas Muller. Shaqiri also had a tough year marred with injuries, but his form remained impressive for the national team whenever he played. Shaqiri’s pace and ability to cut inside is well suited to his coach’s tactic and he makes a formidable winger for the side with Stephan Lichsteiner behind him, forming an impressive combination. Stocker too, like Shaqiri, has excelled greatly under Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld and unlike Shaqiri he had a good season with Basel.
Granit Xhaka of Borussia Moenchengladbach will play in between the wingers. Once touted as the “Young Schweinsteiger” by Coach Hitzfeld, Xhaka possesses excellent anchoring ability to create goal scoring chances for his attacking players. Xhaka will be provided the freedom to move around the pitch to combine the play together with the midfielders and the attackers. The versatility of the player provides options for the coach as he can also play as a winger if needed, allowing Admir Mehmedi to take his place behind the striker.
Josip Drmic should play as the striker in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Drmic’s team Nurnberg was relegated from Bundesliga this season, but individually he had a great season, scoring 17 times. He has already signed for Bayer Leverkusen and will play there next season. Drmic scored in the 1-0 friendly victory over Jamaica this week. Mario Gavranovic is likely to play as the backup for him or might replace him depending of Drmic’s form. Drmic is still very young and lacks big game experience; however the World Cup may provide him a great opportunity to establish himself as the talisman of the team.
KEY PLAYERS & TALENT RADAR KEY YOUNG PLAYERS
Xherdan Shaqiri | Despite the fact that he’s had a rough season coming into the tournament, Shaqiri is the undisputed star of this Switzerland side. The players look to him as a talisman, and the coach will be expecting a lot from him, and Shaqiri is a player who can certainly live up to these expectations. With Switzerland looking to play on the counter, watch out for his pace, dribbling and excellent crosses, as the likes of Drmic look to feed off the supply that he can give them.
Josip Drmic | The youngster is the proper definition of an out-an-out striker. Regularly playing in and around the box, he seems to come alive as he gets closer to the goal. Switzerland have been tipped to surprise many by us as the real darkhorses of the tournament. Drmic will lead the line in a youthful Swiss side, playing off the shoulders of the last defender. Expect atleast a goal or two in proper poaching style. Drmic was named Talent Radar Forward of the Season at our inaugural Talent Radar Young Player Awards, among others.
Fabian Schar | The young ball playing centre back has emerged as one of the finest young talents in Europe at the moment. With a weakness in the centre of defence for the national team, Fabian Schar is a key player if Switzerland are to be able to hold their own against teams like France. Aside from that, his ball playing ability is very important to Switzerland and how they build their attacks when possession is ceded to them by some of the ‘lesser’ teams in the group.
Ricardo Rodriguez | The young left back has had a terrific season at club level winning a whole number of plaudits, and out Talent Radar defender of the season award, at our inaugural Talent Radar Young Player awards, among many others. Rodriguez is a player who has impressed defensivley, and going forward, and there are expectations of him this time. While he has serious competition for a starting spot from Reto Zeigler, don’t be surprised if you see Rodriguez starting for the majority of the games.
While a minimum expectation from this Swiss team is to at least make it to the last 16. Anything beyond that would be a great success and will be a fantastic way to bid farewell to one of the greatest managers of world football Ottmar Hitzfeld. When you have a two time UEFA Champions League winning manager (with Dortmund in 1997 and with Bayern in 2001) running the show, you can expect wonders to happen. Expect this Switzerland team’s journey to Brasil to be a pleasant surprise.