Swiss set on having their say
© FIFA.com

When one of world football's traditional minnows gets pitted alongside Brazil, Mexico and Japan in the group stage of a tournament, it is tempting to predict the earliest of flights home. Switzerland's fate may well look to be set in stone following the draw for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, but the country's youngsters have previous experience of upsetting the odds, not to mention some of the biggest names in the game.

"We're in exactly the same situation we were in at the Euro," Switzerland's unruffled coach Dany Ryser told FIFA.com. "Drawn alongside France, Spain and Italy, people saw us as makeweights and yet we finished top. Playing the role of the already-doomed team suits me just fine."

Alongside France, Spain and Italy, people saw us as makeweights and yet we finished top. Playing the role of the already-doomed team suits me just fine.
After advancing from a very tough group at the continental finals, Switzerland coach Dany Ryser is hoping to lead his side into the knockout phase in at Nigeria 2009

Less optimistic, or perhaps simply more realistic, observers would have looked upon the make-up of Group B as the worst possible outcome for Switzerland, but Ryser sees only a fantastic chance for his team. "Some will say that it's a difficult group, but I prefer to say that it's an interesting group," he said. 

"My players have never come up against non-European opposition, and now they'll be able to measure themselves against some great footballing nations and different playing styles. For their careers, experiencing moments like these will be a fantastic opportunity to progress, because let's not forget that their long-term goal is to have the best career possible."

Respectful but fearless
With that in mind, there could be few better ways of boosting their future prospects than a few scintillating performances on the global stage. "I expect them to approach the competition with that in mind, fully conscious of what this tournament can bring them," continued Ryser. "They need to go into it with respect, but without fear."

The coach has nonetheless refused to set his young charges a goal for the competition. "I'm not talking to them about qualifying or reaching such and such a stage," he said. "What I'm aiming for is for my team to be ready to play their best football in every match. We can lose, but I want us to be able to say we played at our highest level at the end of each game. And, in general, when you manage to do that, you end up getting pleasing results."

That ought to make Switzerland's first opponents Mexico sit up and take notice. World U-17 champions in 2005, El Tri should not expect an easy outing against a side described by their own coach as "united and well organised", as Spain, Italy and France can attest after last year's UEFA European U-17 Championship in Germany.

"Everyone now knows that you don't get a lot of chances against Switzerland," explained Ryser. "But that doesn't mean we're a defensive team, because we have some talented individuals capable of scoring at any moment."

Heading that list is Grasshoppers forward Nassim Ben Khalifa, who has already made his top-flight debut and is a key figure in a team that can boast a leader in every department. Currently learning the ropes at Manchester City, captain Frederic Vesely is the soul of the side and the organiser at the back, while Basel's Kofi Nimeley holds the same responsibilities in midfield.

That trio of stalwarts shone brightly on German soil and are expected to make the trip to Africa, along with the majority of the team that reached the European semi-finals. "Unless we get any serious injuries, I'll be depending on those boys who've already got big tournament experience, and that will make our preparations easier," said Ryser.

The big names like Germany, Brazil and Argentina are slightly ahead of the rest, as are the African teams who already know the conditions.
Switzerland coach Dany Ryser

"A competition is, of course, won during the matches themselves, but it's also won in your preparations. That will be even truer in Nigeria, with its climatic conditions that not all the countries will be used to. Unfortunately, we're a small national association and we don't have the means to hold a training camp on site ahead of the tournament, but we'll look to prepare our players the best we can so that they know what to expect."

First up for the Swiss as they count down to the main event will be two friendlies against Poland, then another against Austria and a final training camp in Malta before they make their way to Africa six days ahead of the big kick-off.

Without wanting to make any predictions, Ryser ends the interview with a few words on who he sees as the overall favourites. "The big names like Germany, Brazil and Argentina are slightly ahead of the rest, as are the African teams who already know the conditions," he opined.

"But all the teams who've qualified for a World Cup have their own strengths and they'll get to have their say." In his own team's case, he'll be hoping they also have the final word.