After a 30 year managerial career, the “General” has decided to call it quits. Ottmar Hitzfeld announced his plans to retire following the conclusion of Switzerland’s participation at the 2014 World Cup, the second successive qualification earned during his tenure. Will his decision to depart undermine the team’s performance in Brazil? It’s doubtful. Hitzfeld has done a tremendous job since taking over in the summer of 2008 when Switzerland was 48th in the FIFA rankings.
Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg), Roman Buerki (Grasshopper), Yann Sommer (Basel)
Defenders: Johan Djourou (Hamburg), Michael Lang (Grasshopper), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Fabian Schaer (Basel), Philippe Senderos (Valencia), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Reto Ziegler (Sassuolo)
Midfielders: Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt), Valon Behrami (Napoli), Blerim Dzemaili (Napoli), Gelson Fernandes (Freiburg), Gokhan Inler (Napoli), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Valentin Stocker (Basel)
Forwards: Josip Drmic (Nuremberg), Mario Gavranovic (Zurich), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg), Haris Seferovic (Real Sociedad), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach)
One of German football’s most well-known and prestigious names, former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich manager Ottmar Hitzfeld has developed the Swiss national team into a quality side. He previously won the UEFA Champions League while in charge of Borussia Dortmund (1997) and Bayern Munich (2001).
4-2-3-1 (GK) Benaglio – (D) Lichtsteiner, Schaer, von Bergen, Rodriguez – (M) Inler, Behrami, Shaqiri, Xhaka, Stocker – (F) Drmic
Group E schedule
June 15: vs. Ecuador in Brasilia
June 20: vs. France in Salvador
June 25: vs. Honduras in Manaus
How they qualified
A gruelling two-year qualification process was a mere walk in the park for Hitzfeld’s side. The Swiss steamrolled through their opponents and finished with an undefeated record (seven wins, three draws) in Group E, scoring 17 goals and only conceding six.
No question that a solid defensive structure is Switzerland’s bread and butter. The names on the roster don’t leap off the page, or cast an intimidating presence. However, Hitzfeld has a formula in place and his team does its talking on the field as a collective. This is far from a team of individuals; no one’s ego needs to be catered to or stroked. The Swiss conceded only six goals in their 10 qualifying fixtures—the better majority being shipped in a 4-4 draw with Iceland—and seven clean sheets.
The biggest question mark that immediately comes into focus is the absence of an impactful striker within the ranks. Every team needs a dominating presence in the attacking zone, a person that strikes fear into opponents. That’s not to say Switzerland hasn’t produced decent hit men over the years—Alexander Frei and Stephane Chapuisat top the list. However in comparison to other positions, the striker talent pool is incredibly low of depth and actual quality.
Players to watch
The leadership of Gokhan Inler down the middle is massive, combined with the intelligence of Granit Xhaka to form the spine of the team. Tranquillo Barnetta is also worth noting, providing a creative presence and pace down the flanks. The one to watch closely is Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri—by far the most skillful player to hatch out of the youth system. The 22 year-old is the real deal and could use the summer tournament as the launch pad and boutique showcase of his talents.
Are the Swiss worthy of the dark-horse label? Team discipline is a quality that merits a positive response to the question posed. They are definitely worthy of being in the conversation and well capable of pulling off an upset. Don’t fall asleep on Switzerland or you might get burned.
Prospects in Brazil
The argument against Switzerland was that they won a rather weak qualifying group and the obvious fact will be exposed against stronger opponents this summer. It’s a misguided assessment of the team’s chance that provides very little credit to a splendid performance in qualifying. Group E is winnable, with France and Ecuador posing the biggest threat—sorry Honduras. After that, one of Argentina or Bosnia are up next in the second round, and most teams would rather avoid the former if given the option. Advancing to the last eight would be a monumental achievement for this tiny neutral nation.
World Cup history
This will be their ninth appearance at the World Cup—third successive after qualifying for one of the previous nine attempted. They exited in the group stage four years ago in South Africa, failing to build off momentum earned off a stunning 1-0 victory over eventual champions Spain. The previous tournament in Germany was the Swiss’ best performance of the modern era, topping a group consisting of France and South Korea, failing to concede a goal in the entire event. Unfortunately, a penalty shootout defeat to Ukraine—after a scoreless 120 minutes—awarded Switzerland the unwanted record of being the first team to fail to convert any of their spot kicks.
• 1930 – Did not enter
• 1934 – Quarterfinals
• 1938 – Quarterfinals
• 1950 – First round
• 1954 – Quarterfinals
• 1958 – Did not qualify
• 1962 – First round
• 1966 – First round
• 1970 to 1990 – Did not qualify
• 1994 – Second round
• 1998 – Did not qualify
• 2002 – Did not qualify
• 2006 – Second round
• 2010 – First round
Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States