World Cup 2014: Switzerland national soccer team guide
ANOTHER LITTLE SWISS MIRACLE?
It all started in 2002 when the Switzerland Under-17 national team won the European Championship, continued with another U-17 title in 2009 and an appearance in the U-21 final of the European Championship in 2011. They called it the “Little Swiss Miracle,” and it could be transferring to the senior team for the 2014 World Cup. The youthful and confident Swiss certainly have been impressive of late, going unbeaten in their 10 qualifying games – albeit against less than stellar competition – to jump all the way to a FIFA world ranking of eighth and become one of the seeded teams for the Dec. 6 World Cup draw. A friendly victory over hosts Brazil in August probably didn’t hurt that ranking.
WHO GOT THEM THERE
Xherdan Shaqiri, M, Bayern Munich (pictured left): The left-footed, Kosovo-born bulldog has been a stalwart off the bench for his club and one of the leaders for his country as a key piece in their youth academy’s recent success. For Switzerland, his on-field tenacity has worn off on his countrymen, giving them a reputation as a tough, feisty side.
Granit Xhaka, M, Borussia Mönchengladbach: There’s a healthy debate over whether Xhaka or Shaqiri is Switzerland’s top player. And while his international career hasn’t always been peaches and cream with Switzerland, the Albanian-born midfielder has become quite the star for the Rossocrociati. He’s also become a target for some club giants.
Gökhan Inler, M, Napoli: Born in Turkey, Inler is another in a handful of talented immigrants making their mark on the Switzerland soccer landscape. Long rumored to be a target of Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, Inler had a funny way of showing his loyalty for his club.
He’ll be leaving his post after the World Cup, but 64-year-old Ottmar Hitzfeld (right) can now add the achievement of developing Switzerland’s pool of young talent to his long list of accomplishments. The German native and former Bundesliga coach also led the Swiss to the 2010 World Cup, where they failed to advance out of pool play despite defeating eventual champion Spain, 1-0.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 7-3-0, 24 pts. / 17 GF, 6 GA (first place in Europe’s Group E)
It wasn’t the strongest group in Europe – consisting of Iceland, the second-place team, Slovenia, Norway, Albania and Cyprus – but Switzerland did little wrong in getting through to their top spot. They beat Iceland 2-0 in Reykjavik on Oct. 16 last year before playing them to an exciting 4-4 draw in Berne on June 9. They then beat Norway (2-0, Oct. 9), Albania (2-1, Oct. 10) and Slovenia (1-0, Oct. 15) to close out qualifying.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Despite a 1-0 victory over eventual 2010 World Cup champions Spain in their final group-stage game, Switzerland finished third in their group and failed to advance to the knockout round thanks to a 1-0 loss to Chile and scoreless draw against Honduras in earlier games. Their 2006 tournament, which marked a return to the World Cup after failing to qualify for the previous two, ended in bitter disappointment in the round of 16 with a loss to Ukraine on penalty kicks (3-0), after finishing atop their group. Their 1994 tournament, following a 28-year drought, also ended in the round of 16. The Swiss were much more successful in the tournament’s early years, with quarterfinal runs in 1934, ’38 and ’54.
Former Toronto FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who recently went unsigned by TFC, has one cap for Switzerland … Defender Dennis Iapichino, who has six appearances for the Switzerland U-21s, played two seasons for the Montreal Impact before signing with D.C. United in August … The US national team last played Switzerland on Oct. 17, 2007 in Basel, beating them 1-0 via a goal by Michael Bradley.