Ottmar Hitzfeld has won every honour there is to win as a coach, among them the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup, not to mention a host of German and Swiss national titles. Following a highly successful double-winning campaign with Bayern Munich in 2008, the then 60-year-old supremo revealed that he would not be extending his contract with Germany’s most successful club as he went in search of a new challenge.
The former Stuttgart, FC Basel and FC Lucerne striker’s next assignment came in the form of the Swiss national team. Despite enduring a shaky start to his tenure and most notably a humiliating 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Luxembourg in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying, the ‘General’ has managed to put the *Schweizer Nati *firmly in contention for a place at next summer’s finals since taking over last July. The side captained by Borussia Dortmund striker Alexander Frei currently share the Group 2 lead with Greece, who have their noses in front thanks to a slightly superior goal difference.
FIFA.com caught up with the legendary German tactician for an exclusive interview at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa.
FIFA.com: Ottmar, you recently arrived in South Africa for the FIFA Confederations Cup. What are your thoughts so far?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: So far it’s been great. The opening ceremony was really well put together and the crowd gave Sepp Blatter a warm reception for bringing the Confederations Cup and of course the World Cup to South Africa. The atmosphere for the first match was fantastic but, as with many opening fixtures at international tournaments, the game itself was a bit cautious and both teams let nerves get the better of them.
You mentioned the wonderful atmosphere created by the fans at the opening game. How would you compare spectators here with those in Europe?
The fans are certainly more demonstrative over here. If things are going well, they are really enthusiastic, but if not, they can be a little impatient. The atmosphere is good, though, and there are a lot of emotions on display.
Away from the pitch, what are your first impressions of South Africa and Johannesburg in particular?
My first impressions have been very good. The transport, the hotel and the stadium have all been first-class. The security operation here seems very well organised and access to the stadium is very efficient.
Who is the favourite for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 in your eyes? I don’t think it’s going to be the world champions, Italy, so I’d have to go with Spain after their European Championship success last year.
The fans are certainly more demonstrative over here. If things are going well, they are really enthusiastic, but if not, they can be a little impatient.
Returning to the subject of FIFA World Cup qualification, your group is very close at the moment. How do you rate Switzerland’s chances?
We’ve managed to put ourselves in a decent position, but now it’s up to us to get the results we need to ensure qualification. The match against Greece on 5 September will be crucial. We have home advantage, but it really is a must-win game, especially considering we are level with them at the top. After that, we still have to face Latvia, Luxembourg and Israel, but I think we ought to qualify if we can open up a three-point lead over the Greeks.
It would be your first FIFA World Cup as a coach. What would it mean to you personally to lead Switzerland into next year’s finals?
It would be a dream come true. I’ve experienced a lot as a coach at club level, such as the Champions League and the German and Swiss domestic leagues, but pitting your wits against the greatest teams on the planet and representing a country like Switzerland would be a very proud moment for me. I’m looking forward to it and I hope that we’re there come next summer.