Utilitarian, pragmatic and organised are all words that have been used in regard to this generation of Swiss players in recent years. A technically limited side that has had its collective abilities maximised through intelligent tactical planning, Switzerland may not be the most entertaining side on show in South Africa this summer, but their effectiveness and capacity for “grinding out” results cannot be denied. Under the leadership of Ottmar Hitzfeld, the two-time Champions League winning German Coach, the Schweizer Nati have developed as a group and will be hoping to play better football than that which they demonstrated on home turf during Euro 2008.
There were certainly signs of improvement in qualifying, the Swiss topping what was admittedly a relatively weak Group 2, but losing just one game and looking fairly controlled throughout the campaign. A rigid 4-4-2 was the framework within which Switzerland qualified for the World Cup, a sound defence having been the hallmark of this side in recent times. A centre-half pairing of Philippe Senderos and Stephane Grichting, despite not being particularly high-profile, has proved itself to be reliable and, alongside full-backs Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ludovic Magnin, constitutes and unfussy but solid back four particularly adept at dealing with aerial threats.
The back line is given further protection by the tenacious Gelson Fernandes who sits deep, screening the defence and breaking up opposition attacks in their formative stages wherever possible. The former Manchester City man is the perfect foil for his likely central midfield partner, Gokhan Inler, Udinese’s robust box-to-box midfielder, an all-action player highly capable in both attacking and defensive roles. On the flanks Marco Padalino and Tranquillo Barnetta provide a skill and intelligence which is vital in maintaining the standard of service to the front two, Blaise Nkufo and the talismanic Alexander Frei, the latter having an exceptional international goalscoring record with 40 strikes in 73 appearances.
Having been drawn in a group alongside three teams with a far greater attacking nature than themselves (Spain, Chile and Honduras), Switzerland will have to be at their structural and organisational best if they are to overcome their lack of imagination and creativity to progress through to the knock-out stages. Although a team coached by someone as tactically astute as Hitzfeld should never be written off, it’s hard to see this Swiss side, talented though they are, getting the better of Spain and Chile to battle their way into the latter stages of the tournament. Yes, the Swiss are a compact and organised unit, but sometimes organisation isn’t quite enough.
Probable starting XI: Benaglio (Wolfsburg); Lichtsteiner (Lazio), Senderos (Arsenal), Grichting (Auxerre), Magnin (FC Zurich); Padalino (Sampdoria), Inler (Udinese), Fernandes (Saint-Etienne), Barnetta (Bayer Leverkussen); Frei (FC Basel), Nkufo (Seattle Sounders)
The Road to South Africa: 1st in UEFA qualifying Group 2
World Ranking: 24th