Group H: Switzerland

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Good organisation and low expectations mean a young, star-struck Swiss team could spring a surprise...

Ottmar Hitzfeld’s reign as Switzerland coach couldn’t have got off to a worse start. They began qualifying by conceding a late equaliser away to Israel, and were then beaten 2-1 at home by Luxembourg. Five wins in a row, though, steadied the ship.

“We had a difficult start with the defeat against Luxembourg, but we fought back and claimed an important win in Greece,” said the midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta. “Every game was like a final for us. The home match against Greece proved decisive and I think we deserved to win the group in the end.”

Still, their progress has been efficient rather than thrilling and, while beating Greece home and away is some achievement, the suspicion is that they benefited greatly from being drawn in the simplest of the European groups.

Generally, though, the sense is that Switzerland are rising. Their Under-17 team won the World Championship in Nigeria last year, continuing the emergence of a crop of talented young players – many of them from immigrant communities, as Swiss liberals keep pointing out, hoping to head off the rise of the militant right with an example of multicultural success such as France enjoyed in 1998.

The squad is notably youthful, with the likes of the 21-year-old Bayer Leverkusen forward Eren Derdiyok and the 23-year-old St Etienne midfielder Gelson Fernandes already fixtures.

Their draw in South Africa is not easy, but it could have been far worse. “Our goal has to be to survive the group stage. It’s a big challenge, but that's the aim,” says Barnetta. “It’s great that we’re going to have to opportunity to play against a big football nation like Spain. It’s an honour to be able to pit yourself against the best in the world. The two other teams are decent sides as well and I think all three of us will see second place as the target.”

Hitzfeld has made Switzerland well-organised, and they will be difficult to beat. There is quality in midfield, and even if they may not be particularly incisive, the likes of Gokhan Inler and Barnetta will retain possession, while Fernandes adds bite.

The only time they scored more than twice in any game in qualifying was away to Luxembourg, when they went goal crazy and racked up three. Those who saw them sleepwalk to the last 16 in Germany three years ago can be forgiven for wondering if anything had changed: this is not a side with pizzazz or goals.

Interesting fact
Switzerland were eliminated from the 2006 World Cup without conceding a goal in the tournament, going out on penalties to Ukraine after an agonising 120 minutes of 0-0 football.

The Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld
One of only two coaches to win the European Cup/Champions League with two different sides (Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich), Hitzfeld replaced Kobi Kuhn in 2008. Although born on the German side of the order, he began his playing career in Switzerland winning two league titles with Basel, and had to learn German German as opposed to Swiss German when he became Dortmund coach in 1991.

Key Player: Alexander Frei
The Basel forward averages better than a goal every other game for Switzerland, and they will need him to provide the cutting edge. Crucially, he looks set to miss the opening game against Spain with an ankle injury.

Probable Team (4-4-2): Benaglio; Lichtsteiner, Grichting, Senderos, Magnin; Padalino, Fernandes, Inler, Barnetta; Nkufo, Frei

World Cup Talentspotter: More details on the players
Q&A: FFT interviews a player from every nation

Spain, June 16, 3pm, Durban
Chile, June 21, 3pm, Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth
Honduras, June 25, 7.30pm, Mangaung/Bloemfontein

Qualified Top of UEFA Group 2
Israel (A) 2-2
Luxembourg (H) 1-2
Latvia (H) 2-1
Greece (A) 2-1
Moldova (A) 2-0
Moldova (H) 2-0
Greece (H) 2-0
Latvia (A) 2-2
Luxembourg (A) 3-0
Israel (H) 0-0

World Cup record
1934 Quarter-Final
1938 Quarter-Final
1950 1st Round
1954 Quarter-Final
1962 1st Round
1966 1st Round
1994 2nd Round
2006 2nd Round

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