Switzerland captain Alexander Frei is an undisputed leader and figurehead in the team coached by Ottmar Hitzfeld. The Basel striker earned his first full international cap in March 2001, and has been a continuous presence in the national set-up ever since. The 1.80m striker is his nation's all-time leading scorer and a sporting idol.
Frei set out on his professional career in 1995 with his hometown club FC Basel. He subsequently played for Thun, Lucerne and Servette Geneva in Switzerland, before his first move abroad took him to France and a three-year stint with Stade Rennes.
After a patchy run of form at the start, Frei blossomed in the Ligue 1 spotlight. In 2003-4, he finished second-highest scorer in the French top flight on 20 goals. He went one better the following season, again netting 20 goals but this time ending up as the league’s leading marksman.
After a further season with Rennes and in the wake of the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, Frei switched to the German Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. The crowd quickly adopted him as their hero, his 16 goals proving vital in securing continued top flight status after a troubled season for the men in yellow and black.
After three seasons with the 1997 UEFA Champions League winners, the 30-year-old declared his travelling days over and returned to his roots. In a thoroughly creditable first season back at FCB, Frei has proven he still has what it takes in front of goal, and why he rates as one of Europe’s most enduring and consistent goal-getters.
Frei has appeared for Switzerland at three major tournaments so far. In 2004, the Swiss failed to win any of their three matches at the UEFA EURO in Portugal and were eliminated after the group stage. The FIFA World Cup in Germany two years later brought greater success. Frei scored twice as Switzerland made it to the last sixteen, only to fall to Ukraine on penalties.
Arguably Frei’s most agonising experience in national colours came at UEFA EURO 2008 on home soil. In the first half of the opening match against Czech Republic, the national captain sustained an injury serious enough to rule him out of the rest of the tournament.
Under Hitzfeld, the 2005 and 2007 Swiss Player of the Year has tended to operate in the hole behind the central striker, allowing him to exploit his pace in runs from deep. Frei will certainly be a man to watch as Hitzfeld’s Swiss take on Spain, Honduras and Chile in the search for a place in the Round of 16 at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
The first FIFA World Cup on the African continent could yet prove the 30-year-old’s last major tournament, as he himself hinted a few months ago: "All I’m concerned about right now is the World Cup in 2010. I don’t know what’ll happen after that, but it may be a new generation’s turn."