Switzerland's population may only stand at eight million people but the national team has already reached the quarter-finals at a FIFA World Cup™ on three occasions. They did so most recently on home turf in 1954, and for years La Nati have dreamt of progressing that far again at a major tournament. FIFA.com outlines six reasons why they can do so at Russia 2018.
1. Best-ever qualifying campaign
While Switzerland only punched their ticket to the finals via the play-offs, in which they beat Northern Ireland 1-0 away and drew 0-0 at home, their qualifying campaign to get there was almost flawless. After starting with a 2-0 victory over reigning European champions Portugal, Switzerland won their subsequent eight matches before a 2-0 reverse to the Iberians in their final fixture forced them into the play-offs due to an inferior goal difference.
2. Suited to strong opposition
Switzerland's World Cup kicks off on 17 June in Rostov against record champions Brazil. Yet a glance in the history books reveals that such an assignment could actually suit coach Vladimir Petkovic's men. In 2006 the Swiss drew 0-0 with eventual runners-up France in Stuttgart, at South Africa 2010 they recorded a 1-0 win over a Spain side that would ultimately be crowned champions and then there was also the aforementioned triumph over Portugal at the start of their Russia 2018 qualifying campaign.
3. New style taking effect
Over the last two decades Switzerland have relied on compact and disciplined performances to qualify for major tournaments. However, Petkovic has strived to instil a more attacking, possession-based style into the team and the progress made in this regard has been clearly evident. "We've grown a lot as a team," said the coach. "We can act but we can also react during a game." Former Switzerland captain Ciriaco Sforza agrees: "This can be a great team."
Switzerland's World Cup record since 1954
1958: Did not qualify
1962: Group stage
1966: Group stage
*Failed to qualify between 1970 and 1990
1994: Round of 16 (3-0 defeat by Spain)
1998: Did not qualify
2002: Did not qualify
2006: Round of 16 (eliminated on penalties by Ukraine)
2010: Group stage
2014: Round of 16 (1-0 defeat by Argentina after extra time)
4. Greater expectations, improved self-belief
In the 1990s Switzerland were content to simply qualify for tournaments again. That is no longer the case now that the team has reached the finals for a fourth successive time, only narrowly losing to opponents of the calibre of Argentina at Brazil 2014, and performed superbly during Russia 2018 qualifying. "Compared to five or six years ago our quality is different now," said Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka. "All of our players are first-team regulars at top clubs."
Switzerland are currently eighth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, and even climbed to fourth at one point in 2017. "We want to get to the quarter-finals," said Petkovic. "That would be the next big step for us. I know that our fans have that hope and expectation. So does the team, and so do I."
5. Top-notch goalkeepers
Just like their neighbours Germany, Switzerland are now famed for producing goalkeepers. Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach), Roman Burki (Borussia Dortmund) and Marwin Hitz (Augsburg) are all first-choice custodians at Bundesliga clubs, although the former is the clear No1 for Switzerland, impressing with consistently superb displays. Few nations can boast such strength in depth in this position.
6. Successful integration and team spirit
Towards the end of 2015 there were reports of internal disagreements in the squad, but any problems have now been resolved by Petkovic and are considered a thing of the past. "Petkovic has created a huge sense of togetherness over the last few years," said captain Stephan Lichtsteiner. Xherdan Shaqiri agrees: "The team is a unit". The general view is that the numerous players with a migrant background - known in Switzerland as 'Secondos' - enrich the team. "They're what make Die Nati so good," said former national team coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. "They know no fear. Their mentality gives them an unbending will to win."
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