Do a Google image search for “old school European football manager” and you will see a picture of Ottmar Hitzfeld. Retiring after this world cup, he has seen great success at the club level with Dortmund and Bayern, and was a math teacher in a former life.
Fluid, entertaining, energetic and not afraid to shoot. They move the ball out to the wings so teammates can make runs into the box. They attack with one touch passes breaking from their own half, and they enjoy a good pop at goal from distance. The Swiss play with more flair now than they have in recent memory. That said, they also have a dirty side. They are not afraid to get stuck in and take a card to get under the skin of their opponents.
Diego Benaglio. 55 caps, a Bundesliga medal and a Swiss La Liga medal. He has also plied his trade in Portugal with Nacional. He started eight of Switzerland’s 10 qualifying matches and kept five clean sheets. Tall and lean with strong hands, he has the reflexes of a jungle cat and is one the world’s best pure shot stoppers. Of Italian heritage, he looks like a menacing Mafia hitman from a Sopranos episode.
Gokhan Inler. He plays a defensive midfield role for both Napoli as well as Switzerland, and also serves as the Swiss captain. The master of the professional foul, he is also a prolific passer who moves from box to box and possesses a wicked bending shot from distance. Inler has potential “goal of the tournament” written all over him.
Xherdan Shaqiri. Xherdan Shaqiri. Xherdan Shaqiri. Moves like liquid with the ball and patrols the final third of the pitch like a five and a half foot tall Spiderman. The most Brazilian of the Swiss squad, his game is about deception not work ethic, moments of magic not hard slogs. He has been on the outside looking in at Bayern, but he is only 22 and will be a joy to watch in this summer.
He has only scored four goals at the senior international level, but the striker to watch for this summer will be Mario Gavranovic. Those four goals have come in just eight senior appearances and over the last two seasons with FC Zurich he has found the net 22 times in 61 appearances. A poacher, he finds those pockets of space in the six yard box and pounces. Tends to disappear for long stretches, however.
Many speak of their defense and Arsenal cast-offs Senderos and Djrourou, but the heat of Brazil in June is probably going to be their biggest weakness, as the oppressive humidity might very well put a damper on their energetic play. Their final group game is against Honduras—a match from which they are surely going to need a result—and takes places in Manaus, which is deep in the heart of the Amazon Jungle. Rain forest like heat and 95% humidity is a big ask for a squad with mostly northern European based players.
Casual observers believe France are the big boys in this group, but Switzerland were actually the seeded team, earning the right with an excellent recent record that saw them rise up the FIFA World Rankings to grab one of the coveted spots. So don’t go underestimating this team.
Many members of the Swiss squad—including the aforementioned Gavranovic and Shaqiri—are second generation immigrants whose parents fled the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. These were horrific conflicts that saw millions killed, injured and/or displaced. But their parents found a way out and now their sons are representing their adopted country on the world’s biggest stage.
Expectations: The Swiss are a young, exciting team brimming with talent, they are led by one of Europe’s grand old coaches and they were also lucky enough to be drawn into a very easy group. Quarter-finals or bust.