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An Historic Victory, a Record Breaking Feat and a Petty Attack

Switzerland World Cup 2010 Review

Switzerland went into the World Cup finals in South Africa with fairly low expectations and qualification out of a tricky group was the reasonable target set.

Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld believed his side were capable of realising their aim, but the German tactician was well aware of his Swiss team’s capabilities and limitations.

The preparations for the tournament were anything but ideal, with key injury setbacks costing the squad of experienced duo, Christian Spycher and Marco Streller. The build-up friendlies preceding the finals created more questions than answers, as the results and performances were largely disappointing, bar a plucky display against defending World champions, Italy. A further constraint on the Swiss squad developed when influential skipper, Alexander Frei injured his ankle in a training ground incident the day before the squad flew out to South Africa.

 

Captain Alexander Frei barely featured in South Africa

The tournament began with Switzerland facing the defending European champions of 2008 and widely tipped favourites for the cup, Spain. Unbelievably, the Swiss stifled the talented Spanish team and emerged victorious in a bizarre 1-0 success. On the back foot for large parts of the game and facing wave after wave of attack, Hitzfeld’s men somehow managed to grab a goal on the break through Gelson Fernandes, and held firm to keep their sheet clean and claim a remarkable first ever victory over Spain.

 

Gelson Fernandes scored Switzerland’s only goal of the tournament

The historic victory against Spain sent shockwaves around the world as the tournament saw its first major shock; with it Switzerland established themselves as strong contenders for qualification from Group G.

It was not surprising to see the Swiss employ a defensive strategy, utilising the counter-attack well when possible. ‘We wanted to focus on our defence and wait for the counter-attack’, Hitzfeld explained in the wake of the Spain victory. With a traditionally stubborn backline and the team lacking real goal threats, this approach was always expected.

At the backbone of a disciplined and efficient defensive display was goalkeeper, Diego Benaglio, who shone with a string of excellent saves against the firepower of Spain. Benaglio’s performance typified the Swiss grit we’re accustomed to, with his manager adding, ‘He was decisive to our win’ to exemplify Benaglio’s role.

 

Diego Benaglio was outstanding between the sticks

The second group stage tie with Chile, posed a real opportunity for either side to take a stranglehold of the group. It turned out to be a quite farcical affair, with Saudi Arabian referee, Khalil Al Ghamdi ruining the match as a spectacle. He issued a debatable red card to Swiss midfielder, Valon Behrami in the 31st minute, as well as making several other baffling decisions, that led to nine players being cautioned by the card-happy man in the middle.

Chile eventually prevailed with a single goal victory, after the 10-men of Switzerland valiantly held on until Mark Gonzalez’s 75th minute winner. In holding the Chileans past the 67 minute mark, Switzerland set a new record for the longest run without conceding a goal at the World Cup finals, encompassing the 2006 finals in Germany where four clean sheets were achieved. The record breaking achievements were no consolation for coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld, who was left fuming at the key refereeing decision, ‘The red card was not even a yellow card. Of course I was angry’, blasted Hitzfeld.

Heading into their final group game with Honduras, a win was almost a certain requirement in order for the Swiss to qualify for the knock-out stages. Ultimately, Hitzfeld’s side limped out of the tournament after failing to beat a plucky Honduran side and in truth, lacked any creative flair or quality in attack after playing out a drab, bore draw.

As Spain overcame Chile, a two-goal victory for the Swiss would have been enough to see them progress at the expense of Chile. Hitzfeld was bluntly honest in his reaction to the early exit, ‘It took us a very long time to find our game and Honduras created chances before us. We then had chances of our own, but we didn’t deserve to qualify because we didn’t score’, he said.

 

Eren Derdiyok looks dejected after the failure to beat Honduras

The familiar characteristics of an organised and strong Swiss side was reflected in the class of 2010, however their inability to create and subsequently score goals left the one-dimensional side bitterly disappointed after only mustering a goalless draw against a weak Honduras side.

The 23-man squad that travelled to South Africa appeared to lack that match-winning player or star performer, but in fairness, Switzerland aren’t famed for producing this type of player and instead perform effectively as a well-drilled team. Veteran striker, Hakan Yakin emphasised his side’s shortcomings stating, ‘It’s not that we were simply unlucky. We’ve come up short due to our limitations’.

In the aftermath of the disappointing group stage exit, Ottmar Hitzfeld suggested he would continue in his role as manager until his contract expires after Euro 2012. ‘Of course I want to stay. If the Swiss people want me to stay, I’ll stay’, he said. However, recent speculation in the British press has suggested Hitzfeld has held informal talks with Premier League club, Fulham.

In conclusion, Switzerland’s World Cup campaign of 2010 will be remembered for the amazing start they made in defeating eventual champions, Spain. However, the initial success only ensued to heighten expectations for the nation, with the consequent failings against Chile and Honduras providing a sense of realism for the small alpine nation, as their World Cup adventure was over.

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