Switzerland ensured their ninth participation at a FIFA World Cup™ on Wednesday 14 October when they picked up a crucial home point against Israel in their final qualification fixture.
Among their ranks was the talented duo of Eren Derdiyok and Tranquillo Barnetta, who, despite not figuring prominently among the goalscorers during the campaign, still played an integral role in the national team's journey to South Africa.
In contrast to some of their international colleagues, both players are currently riding high domestically, their club side Bayer Leverkusen having gone unbeaten in their opening nine league matches to take top spot in the Bundesliga.
Barnetta: key man
Coach Jupp Heynckes, appointed over the summer after a successful five-match stint in charge of Bayern Munich at the end of last term, has been repaid for the faith shown in the two Swiss stars. Midfield motor Barnetta is a fixture in the starting line-up and one of the Rhineland club's most consistent performers, while Derdiyok has been frequently among the goals this term.
Around three months ago, however, things almost took a very different path. The cultured winger was being courted by several top European clubs and admitted he was considering a transfer. "I won't beat around the bush. We're not competing in Europe but I know what I have here at Bayer, and if I did move then it would have to be a considerable step forward," said the former St. Gallen schemer at the time.
Nevertheless Heynckes was quick to rebuff any approaches. "There's much more to come from him," explained the former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich coach. And few would argue.
It's great that Switzerland have managed to qualify again. Playing at
four major international tournaments in a row is some achievement.
Barnetta has found the net twice so far this season and has created a further three, while his compatriot Derdiyok is faring just as well. The young striker, who moved to Leverkusen over the summer from FC Basel, has earned himself a regular starting berth in attack alongside Stefan Kiessling and has justified his selection with four league goals this term. The 21-year-old has also chalked up two assists which led to important victories over Hoffenheim (1-0) and reigning champions VfL Wolfsburg (3-2).
Heynckes for one is clearly convinced by the Switzerland international's credentials. "He could become a great player one day," said the 64-year-old supremo on his young protégé. Derdiyok reacted positively to the comments, although he is clearly not one to get carried away: "Of course it's nice to hear that the coach rates me so highly, but that doesn't mean he thinks I'm the finished article. Every day he tells me that I need to keep on working at my game."
In the national team things also appear to be going well for the Leverkusen pair, with Barnetta thriving under the tutelage of national coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. The 42-time Swiss international took part in every one of his country's European Zone Group 2 fixtures, a feat matched only by striker Blaise N'Kufo.
Towering goal-getter Derdiyok, meanwhile, made seven appearances en route to South Africa 2010, scoring a solitary goal against Latvia to ensure a 2-2 draw and an important point.
Full of pride
The technically accomplished striker has already amassed twelve international caps and, along with his colleague Barnetta, is dreaming of a successful FIFA World Cup next summer. He is unlikely to be lacking in motivation either, following the disappointment of UEFA EURO 2008 on home turf, when the Swiss crashed out in the group stage.
"It's great that Switzerland have managed to qualify again. Playing at four major international tournaments in a row is some achievement," said the pacey winger. "If you look at the entire qualification campaign then we deserved to go through in first place," said 'Quillo', as Barnetta is affectionately known by his international team-mates.
With the right amount of confidence, a successful coach at the helm, a hungry squad of players and a talented duo who are performing consistently at both club and international level, Switzerland could well be a force to be reckoned with come South Africa 2010.