Are Switzerland the 2014 Underdogs?

October 15, 2013 in International by Daniel Lloyd

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First, before we look into the current team, let’s take a look down memory lane.

The year was 1992. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston was the highest selling single of the year. Gladiators had just debuted on TV. Famous films included Sister Act, Home Alone 2, Wayne’s World and Aladdin. Leeds United won the last football league season before the Premiership began. And Roy Hodgson was the new manager of Switzerland.

INTER MILAN V LAZIO

During his tenure with the Swiss national side, Hodgson endeared himself to the fans far better than he has with his homeland ones. After two years in charge of the Swiss team, he had taken them to their first World Cup since 1966, qualifying from a group that featured Italy and Portugal only losing one match in the process. They made it out of the group stages of the World Cup too,  succumbing to Spain in the last 16 via a 3-0 defeat. He also managed to take them to Euro 96 but with them not faring so well in this tournament, he took his other job at Inter Milan full time. During his time with Switzerland, they were at one point ranked the third best national team in the world.

But his tournament prowess is not the most important thing Hodgson did while in Switzerland. Hodgson oversaw a refit of the academy system in Switzerland. The academy that has produced such talent as Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Ricardo Rodriguez.

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And now we fast forward to today. Switzerland are one of the first teams to qualify from their group for the 2014 World Cup, albeit a fairly easy qualifying group. They’ve managed to go unbeaten; although they did throw away a 4-1 lead against Iceland last month.

But while Switzerland have qualified, so have another team that is much hyped. Belgium have not qualified for a major tournament since  the World Cup in 2002 in South Korea and Japan, but they as well have seen their academy system produce a host of major stars, from Vincent Kompany to the likes of Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku. But with the Belgium team going into the tournament with all the momentum in the world on their side, are people forgetting about Switzerland?

Let’s not forget, Switzerland were the only team to beat the almighty Spain during the last World Cup, and this was without all of their younger breed of stars.

The biggest young star is undoubtedly Xherdan Shaqiri. Considered somewhat of a fringe player at the Allainz Arena, Shaqiri managed to get eight goals in 36 games last season, and has scored eight goals in 29 appearances for Switzerland, including his stunning first ever goal against England in the Euro 2012 qualifiers. At the tender age of 22, he has managed to win 10 trophies; five with Basel and five in one season with Bayern, including the Champions League.

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Another young star is Granit Xhaka, who currently plies his trade with Borussia Monchengladbach. A very level headed individual, he made sure if he did move from his childhood club Basle, he wasn’t going to sit on the bench all the time. He is most comfortable in central midfield, has a great first touch, and can thread a ball through a defence like a thread through a needle. Much more of a playmaker than glory hunter, he rarely scores goals.

But the threat doesn’t end with the youngsters. Napoli trio Valon Behrami, Gökhan Inler and Blerim Dzemaili are obviously some of the best in the world, and will have a connection that not many other international sides can boast.

If there is one weakness in the Switzerland squad, it has always been up front. Ever since Alexander Frei hung up his boots, Switzerland have struggled for a top tier striker. Eren Derdiyok is the current Swiss front man, taking over from old boys Blaise Nkufo and Marco Streller. Derdiyok struggled with a move to Hoffenheim, and has since moved back on loan to Bayer Leverkusen, but with a lack of opportunity; he has only featured once so far this season in a disappointing performance against FSV Mainz.

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If Switzerland have ever had a chance to do better than ever before, it’s now. Young stars combined with dogged veterans, Switzerland have the perfect ratio of experience and exuberance.

The success of the Swiss team lies largely in opportunity. Just like Germany, Switzerland have taken their pick of players from overseas.

Needless to say, this strategy is proven to be effective so in regard to Jack Wilshere’s comment “The only people who should play for England are English people,” I suggest he strongly reconsider. National pride is one thing, but at the end of the day, if England could get a team that would succeed by using tactics of employing foreign players, I’m sure not too many people would complain. After all, it’s worked for other countries.

If there’s ever a silver lining I could provide, it’s that it only took 20 years for Hodgson to implement his long term plan for Switzerland. Sit tight England fans, World Cup 2034 is just around the corner.

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