Hamburg, Nov 25 (DPA) Switzerland, who have been solid but unspectacular at tournaments in recent years, could be a more serious threat under veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld at the World Cup.
The 60-year-old German, one of the most successful coaches in club history, is a canny operator who knows international football inside out and is a proven winner – at least at club level.
Hitzfeld succeeded the popular Jakob Kuhn, who had taken the Nati to Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup before standing down after failing to progress beyond the group stage at Euro 2008 as co-hosts.
After qualifying at the top of Group 2, following a shock home defeat to Luxembourg and ahead of Greece, Latvia, Israel, Luxembourg and Moldova, Hitzfeld has reached his first goal with some aplomb.
“My father would have been extremely proud if he knew that I managed to achieve a success like this,” he said.
“Switzerland is our nation of birth and is way more important than my period at Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund.”
Hitzfeld, who played and coached in Switzerland before winning Champions League titles with both Bundesliga clubs, will see his main task in South Africa as again reaching the knock-out stages.
Euro 2008 proved to be hugely disappointing for the Swiss who went out in the group stage, two years after they were eliminated in the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany without conceding a goal.
Their sorry exit in Germany was sealed in a penalty shootout against Ukraine after a goalless 120 minutes when the Swiss – in a World Cup novelty – also failed to score in a 3-0 penalty loss.
Going a round better in South Africa would be regarded as success for the Swiss who have reached the quarter-finals three times, in 1934, 1938 and when the country hosted the event in 1954.
Hitzfeld has players spread around the German, English, French and Italian leagues, mixed with a home-based contingent including the likes of Basel’s Alex Frei, Marco Streller and Benjamin Huggel or Zurich defender Heinz Barmettler.
For a recent friendly against Norway, Hitzfeld also recalled twins Philipp and David Degen of Liverpool and Young Boys Berne respectively and also gave Kosovo-born striker Albert Bunjaku of
Nuremberg a call-up for the first time.
Bunjaku adds to a strong Bundesliga influence throughout the likely squad. It includes Wolfsburg’s Diego Benaglio, who is first choice in goal, Steve Von Bergen of Hertha Berlin and Christoph Spycher of Eintracht Frankfurt in defence, Bayer Leverkusen’s Tranquillo Barnetta, a key figure in midfield, and club team-mate Eren Derdiyok in attack.
Along with Ernst Happel, Ottmar Hitzfeld is the only manager to win the European Cup/Champions League with two different clubs after victories with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
A former striker who was a member of Germany’s 1972 Olympic team, Hitzfeld, 60, won seven Bundesliga titles and two Swiss league titles among 18 major trophies, making him one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game.
Hitzfeld, who grew up and still lives close to the Swiss border, took over as coach of the Swiss national team in summer 2008.
Alexander Frei has now returned to FC Basel, the club he played for as a youngster after a journey which has taken him to Thun, Lucerne, Geneva’s Servette FC, Stade Rennes and Borussia Dortmund.
Throughout a career often hampered by injury, the 30-year-old has maintained a high scoring ratio to games, with the 40 notched up in 72 games (as of end of October) for Switzerland making him the all-time record scorer for the national team.
Nickname: Schweizer Nati
FIFA affiliation: 1904
Highest FIFA ranking: 3 – August 1993
Lowest FIFA ranking: 83 – December 1998
Previous World Cup appearances: 8 (1934, 1938, 1950, 1954, 1962, 1966, 1994, 2006)
Best World Cup performance: Quarter-finals (1934, 1938, 1954)
Date qualified for finals: Oct 14, 2009