Switzerland will be appearing at the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the ninth time when next summer's tournament gets underway in South Africa, where coach Ottmar Hitzfeld and his men are aiming for more than just a supporting role.
The former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich boss took the national helm after Switzerland's disappointing showing at UEFA EURO 2008, and has now led them to their second FIFA World Cup finals in a row. The Swiss made it to the Round of 16 at the 2006 event in Germany, where they were unluckily eliminated on penalties by Ukraine.
The Swiss boast a healthy blend of youth and experience, combining talented younger players such as Eren Derdiyok, Tranquillo Barnetta and keeper Diego Benaglio with seasoned campaigners like Alexander Frei and Blaise N'Kufo. The current team is hoping at least to emulate the achievements of their forebears who made the last eight in 1934, 1938 and 1954.
The road to South Africa
Hitzfeld and his team made a distinctly inauspicious start on the road to the 2010 finals. After conceding in the final minute to draw away to Israel, a disastrous 2-1 defeat to minnows Luxembourg in Zurich brought shame and embarrassment on the team.
However, the cringeworthy defeat ultimately acted as a wake-up call, and the Swiss duly reeled off five wins on the spin, against Latvia (2-1), Greece (2-1 and 2-0) and Moldova (2-0 and 2-0). They only dropped points again in a 2-2 draw away to the Latvians.
A comfortable 3-0 revenge victory in Luxembourg and a goalless draw with Israel in front of a delirious Basel crowd sealed top spot in European Group 2 and a confirmed place in South Africa for Frei and company.
The star players
Alexander Frei is the undisputed chief on and off the field of play. The Basel striker, who is his country's all-time record goalscorer, was Hitzfeld's natural choice as national team captain. He finished the qualifying campaign on five goals.
That total was equalled by Blaise N'Kufo of Twente Enschede. The striker, who was born in Kinshasa (DR Congo), was first called up by the Swiss in 2000 and has struck up a productive attacking partnership with Frei.
Ottmar Hitzfeld is one of Europe's most highly regarded and most successful senior coaches. He is one of only two men to guide two different clubs to UEFA Champions League glory (Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich).
He became Switzerland head coach on 1 July 2008, and after a bumpy settling-in period, led his team to a direct qualifying berth for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The former Germany amateur international, who appeared at the 1972 Olympic Games, is no stranger to Switzerland after spending spells with Basel (1971-75), Lugano (1978-80) and Lucerne (1980-83) in his playing days.
Previous FIFA World Cups
- In South Africa, Switzerland will be appearing at the FIFA World Cup for the ninth time.
- The Swiss reached the quarter-finals in 1934, 1938 and 1954. They were knocked out in the Round of 16 at the 2006 finals in Germany.
"If my father had known I'd be this successful as Switzerland coach - not as Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund coach - he'd have been overjoyed. It's the place we call home, you see." Ottmar Hitzfeld, Switzerland coach