THE MOST UNDERESTIMATED SEED EVER?
Everyone wanted to be in Switzerland's group. But why was Switzerland a seed to begin with? That's how most still feel about the Swiss, who are not one of the traditional soccer powers. But they've laid the groundwork by focusing on a youth program that tapped into the immigrant community. And it led to an Under-17 European championship (2009) and a spot in the Under-21 European final (2011). Sure, a victory against Brazil in August 2013 will always help your FIFA ranking, but they've also earned their way to No. 6 in the world by mowing down the competition in qualifying. They're out to show that the success is no accident.
WORLD CUP PROSPECTS
The Swiss have a mixture of exciting, young attackers and a veteran complement hardened by their time with major European clubs. Some even call Switzerland's central midfield duo of Gokhan Inler and Blerim Dzemaili the best at the World Cup. That dependable base of talent will ensure that they're in every match, but goals remain a major question mark without a regular scorer. And the hot and humid conditions in Brazil could take their toll on a team that prides itself on pressing, likely giving an edge to less fancied Honduras and Ecuador.
GROUP E SCHEDULE
STARS TO WATCH
Xherdan Shaqiri, M, Bayern Munich (pictured left): The left-footed, Kosovo-born bulldog may be a bit player for German champions Bayern Munich, but he's the undisputed attacking star for Switzerland. A combination of creative and feisty, he's seen as a budding world star in Brazil.
Granit Xhaka, M, Borussia Mönchengladbach: While his international career hasn’t always been peaches and cream with Switzerland, the Albanian-born midfielder has become a regular. Showcasing his talents at the German Bundesliga, Xhaka has now 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. He embodies the prototype of the Swiss player: technically gifted, but physically tenacious. There's a reason he wore a lion's mask on the day he joined Italian club Napoli.
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 a 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.
Current Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei has one cap for Switzerland … Ex-MLS defender Dennis Iapichino (Montreal Impact, DC United) had six appearances for the Switzerland U-21s … The US national team last played Switzerland on Oct. 17, 2007 in Basel, beating them 1-0 via a goal by Michael Bradley.