Abu Dhabi: Switzerland being named among the top seeds for the 2014 World Cup raised plenty of questions about the Fifa rankings system, but they have proved they belong.
The Alpine nation qualified for Brazil with a match to spare for the first time — finishing unbeaten and keeping clean sheets in seven of their 10 matches — and are now rated as the eighth best national team in the world.
Niño Jose Heredia/Gulf News
In the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, they created quite a stir by beating eventual champions Spain 1-0 in their opening match. However, despite that, it was a forgettable World Cup for Switzerland as they exited at the group stage after losing to Chile 1-0 and drawing with Honduras 0-0.
This time the Swiss have been drawn in Group E alongside France, Honduras and Ecuador and will have a great chance to reach the next phase, as they will be strongly fancied to join France in the last 16.
They have plenty of youngsters coming through from the sides that won the Under-17 World Cup in 2007 and reached the final at the 2011 European Under-21 Championship. Kosovo-born midfielders Granit Xhaka and Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri have shown plenty of promise, with Xhaka, 21, making the breakthrough this season as a regular with Borussia Moenchengladbach. Also keep an eye on 21-year-old striker Haris Seferovic, whose goal won the Under-17 World Cup. Manning the citadel will be Bundesliga stalwart Diego Benaglio of Wolfsburg.
Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has been one of Europe’s most successful coaches at the club level. In his 45-year career, he has won seven Bundesliga titles and two Uefa Champions Leagues, while facing one extraordinary defeat in the final of Europe’s premier competition — he was in charge of the Bayern Munich side that conceded two late goals to lose 2-1 to Manchester United in 1999.
The 65-year-old has already announced he will retire following his second World Cup campaign with Switzerland and will be keen to finish on a high.
Fifa ranking: 8
Date of birth: October 10, 1991 (age 22)
Place of birth: Gnjilane (Kosovo)
Playing position: Midfielder
International caps: 31. Goals: 8
Club: Bayern Munich (Germany)
Date of birth: January 12, 1949 (age 65)
Place of birth: Loerrach (Germany)
Manager since: July 1, 2008
Record: P55 W26 D18 L11 — 47.27% win ratio
BEST 11 (4-5-1)
Benaglio; Rodriguez, Schaer, Von Bergen, Lichtsteiner; Stocker, Inler, Shaqiri, Xhaka, Behrami; Seferovic
Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg/GER), Roman Buerki (Grasshopper), Yann Sommer (FC Basel)
Defenders: Johan Djourou (Hamburg/GER), Michael Lang (Grasshopper), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus/ITA), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg/GER), Fabian Schaer (Basel), Philippe Senderos (Valencia/ESP), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Reto Ziegler (Sassuolo/ITA)
Midfielders: Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Valon Behrami, Blerim Dzemaili (both Napoli/ITA), Gelson Fernandes (SC Freiburg/GER), Goekhan Inler (Napoli/ITA), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich/GER), Valentin Stocker (Basel)
Forwards: Josip Drmic (Bayer Leverkusen/GER), Mario Gavranovic (Zurich), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg), Haris Seferovic (Real Sociedad/ESP), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Moenchengladbach/GER)
Topped Uefa Group E unbeaten ahead of Iceland, Slovenia, Norway, Albania and Cyprus.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
First tournament: 1934 (in Italy)
Appearances (before 2014): 9
Best finish: Quarter-finalists (1934, 38, 54)
A record of nine clean sheets in their last 14 matches — including in a 1-0 win over Brazil — gives a clear indication Switzerland are a formidable side capable of competing with the best.
The Swiss have several talented youngsters coming through from the sides that won the Under-17 World Cup in 2007 and reached the final at the 2011 European Under-21 Championship.
Their young generation of players lack the experience of playing on the biggest stage.
The side is profligate in front of goal, with retired all-time top scorer Alexander Frei not adequately replaced. Defender Fabian Schar was their top scorer in qualifying.