An outbreak of football fever has swept across Switzerland,
co-hosts of the UEFA EURO 2008 tournament with neighbours Austria.
In just a few short months, the eyes of the world will be trained
on the Alpine nations, with the Swiss firmly in the spotlight as
they seek to make the most of home advantage and cement a place
among the European footballing elite once and for all.
Ever since taking the reins in summer 2001, Switzerland head coach Jakob 'Kobi' Kuhn has been working assiduously towards this goal. Four years ago, the 64-year-old guided his troops to the European championships in Portugal, although they packed their bags for home after the group stage. The Swiss fared better at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, not conceding a single goal in normal or extra time but eventually losing on penalties to Ukraine in the last 16. The time has come to go a step or two further, providing Zurich-born Kuhn with a fitting finale to his remarkable spell at the national helm, as he has already announced he is to step down after the tournament.
Kuhn took time out for an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, discussing the special significance of playing in front of a home crowd, assessing Switzerland's group opponents, naming his favourites for the trophy, and revealing what the co-hosts aim to achieve.
FIFA.com: Jakob Kuhn, this summer's European championships could be a glorious swansong to your career. You issued a strategy paper a couple of years ago in which you explicitly held out the prospect of winning the UEFA EURO 2008. What does your team still lack for that to happen?
Jakob 'Kobi' Kuhn: It's obvious what we still lack: As Franz Beckenbauer once said, we have to do what's necessary to make our own luck.
You're playing in front of your home crowd. Everyone who watched the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ saw what home advantage can bring. What are you hoping to see from your team at UEFA EURO 2008?
Hmm, it won't exactly be easy. The stadiums are smaller and the opposition isn't drawn from different continents, so the other teams will have plenty of support too. But obviously, the '12th man' is enormously important in creating the atmosphere for an outstanding achievement.
How would you assess your group, which includes Turkey, the Czech Republic and Portugal, and what are your goals for the tournament?
Our goal can't be anything less than making it to the quarter-finals, that's obvious. But setting goals is one thing, achieving your goals is another thing entirely. We're in a genuinely attractive group with the likes of Portugal, the Czechs and the Turks, all capable of really good football. We're on home soil, so it goes without saying we're hoping to qualify for the next round. But we have all the respect in the world for our distinguished opponents!
Your team won plaudits at the 2006 FIFA World Cup but lost unluckily to Ukraine on penalties in the Round of 16. How has the team come on since then? Has the players matured?
We fielded a relatively young side in Germany. In the meantime I've introduced even more new blood - and not just for the sake of it either. A handful of younger players have broken into the team, because there's been so much genuinely fantastic work done with our junior national teams. A few talented newcomers have put themselves forward in recent years. Obviously, it's not our intention simply to field the youngest team, but to send out a team capable of holding its own, and which is mentally strong enough for the job.
Who do you regard as favourites for the trophy?
Germany are one of the favourites, but so are Italy and France. And we shouldn't forget the Spanish this summer. They had a few problems at the start of qualifying, but they finished strongly. History is not on their side, but I think we'll see a strong Spanish team.
You're stepping down as Switzerland coach after the tournament. What are you planning to do next?
I don't have any firm plans yet. I'm sure I won't be bored, although my life won't be as structured as it is now.
How would you rate your successor Ottmar Hitzfeld?
When someone as good as that shows an interest in the position, I take it as a compliment to our football.
Naturally, FIFA.com also took the opportunity to speak exclusively with the head coach of the second UEFA EURO 2008 co-hosts. To see what Austria supremo Josef Hickersberger had to say, follow the link on the right under News.