As gold medallists for Switzerland at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, cyclist Fabian Cancellara and tennis doubles pair Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka will undoubtedly serve as a source of inspiration for the Swiss football squad this summer. Pierluigi Tami's side will attempt to emulate their fellow countrymen’s success at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012, although Tami is well aware of the size of the task ahead.
“Of course we’re ambitious and want to be successful, no doubt about it,” said Switzerland’s Coach of the Year 2011 in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “However, our first aim is to get to the quarter-finals.”
With Mexico, Gabon and Korea Republic to contend with in the group stage, the Eidgenossen are going to need to be on top form right from their opening match against the Gabonese in Newcastle on 26 July. “We’ve not got much preparation time, but we’re in with a chance if we can reach the required level in that period.”
An historic step
A former pro himself, Tami is relishing the challenge and recognises the unique opportunity presenting itself to his charges. London 2012 is the first Olympic Men’s Football Tournament Switzerland have qualified for in 84 years and it is now 88 years since the Alpine nation won silver at the 1924 edition in Paris, making the current crop’s achievement in qualifying as runners- up at the UEFA European U-21 Championship 2011 in Denmark all the more impressive.
“We’ve not played at this tournament for a long time, so it really is a dream come true for all of us,” said Tami, struggling to contain his enthusiasm. “I’ve always watched the Olympics at home on TV and never thought I’d be able to take part. I think this summer’s experience will be a major step in the players’ development. It’ll help them in their careers and we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure it’s a tournament to remember.”
Blend of youth and experience
The combination of a compact defence and a courageous attack is what Tami is hoping will see his side through the group stage. The 50-year-old has around 50 players in mind for his squad, among them Xherdan Shaqiri, soon to be of UEFA Champions League finalists Bayern Munich, Fulham defender Philippe Senderos and Valon Behrami of Fiorentina.
“My squad is still in the ideas phase at the moment, but I’ve already decided on around 70 per cent of it,” said Tami. “I want to wait until the end of the season, though.”
The Swiss tactician is likely to turn to some of the talents who won the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria. “Most players at London 2012 will have been born between 1989 and 1991,” explained Tami. “The majority of our guys were born in 1992. You can’t really compare the Olympics with the U-17 World Cup. It’s two categories higher, but it may well be that I take one or two of our junior world champions.”
One thing working in those youngsters' favour is that, like their famous compatriots Cancellara, Federer and Wawrinka, they already know what it is like to stand on the pedestal as champions. It is this winning mentality which makes Switzerland a side not to be underestimated at London 2012.