Switzerland arrive at their fourth European Championship finals with a side that, on paper, looks capable of reaching the last eight. This is a talented generation of players, with the likes of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri likely to be around for a good few tournaments yet, and a wealth of impressive youngsters coming through also bodes well.
But they have lacked cutting edge in past appearances at major tournaments and will hope that, under the guidance of experienced coach Vladimir Petkovic, they can find the means to win matches at the highest level that has tended to desert them in the past.
THE BIG QUESTION
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Can Switzerland go on a long run at last? In three previous European Championships – including the one they co-hosted with Austria eight years ago – the Swiss failed to escape the group stage. It would be hard to meet the same fate this time around, with Albania and Romania looking very beatable even if France hammered them 5-2 at the World Cup, and with Poland or Ukraine looking to be likely last-16 opponents there is every chance that they could manage the latter-stage appearance they crave.
Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Klose, Schar, Rodriguez; Dzemaili, Xhaka, Behrami; Shaqiri, Seferovic, Mehmedi.
There are question marks at either end of what is generally a very useful-looking side. Centre-back Timm Klose had been in fine form since joining Norwich City in the winter transfer window but sustained a knee ligament injury in April and looks touch and go to be ready. Further forwards, it is hard to find a genuine goalscorer in the squad and it might not be long before Breel Embolo, the much-vaunted young Basel forward, gets his turn ahead of the unconvincing Haris Seferovic.
THE MANAGER: VLADIMIR PETKOVIC
Switzerland's coach Vladimir Petkovic
Image credit: Reuters
Bosnian-born Petkovic emigrated to Switzerland from the former Yugoslavia in 1987 and has been an integral part of the country’s football since, first as a player and then, in the last two decades, as a coach. He finally took the national team role in 2014 after 18 months with Serie A club Lazio, and previously managed the likes of Young Boys, Samsunspor and Sion. Petkovic guided Switzerland to a serene Euro 2016 qualification after a rocky start but doubts persist about their capability against the very best sides..
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Switzerland's Granit Xhaka
Image credit: Reuters
Granit Xhaka: If some reports are to be believed, the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder will be an Arsenal player by the time Euro 2016 comes around. A dominant, energetic six-footer and still only 23, he would be a perfect fit for the Premier League.
Stephan Lichtsteiner: The experienced Juventus right-back underwent minor heart surgery in September but returned to action just over a month later. A real danger with his marauding runs upfield, he has been a vital part of the national team for a decade.
Xherdan Shaqiri: There is a danger that Shaqiri, the Stoke City winger, may not quite reach the dizzying heights that were once promised but he is still an outstanding performer and gives Switzerland the tools to unlock any defence.
SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
If you’re extremely keen on filling your life with all matters Shaqiri, the player has his own app. The 24-year-old is nothing if not an advocate of democracy – recently he used the app to ask fans which wheel colour he should choose for his new VW Touarag. First-world problems, and all that.
JONATHAN WILSON’S KILLER KNOWLEDGE
For much of qualifying, Vladimir Petrovic was a man searching for a system but he seems to have settled on a 4-3-3 in which Xherdan Shaqiri operates on the right with Admir Mehmedi of Bayer Leverkusen on the left. The two full-backs, Stefan Lichtsteiner of Juventus and Wolfsberg’s Ricardo Rodriguez are both very attacking, allowing the two wingers to cut infield to support the central striker.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
It turned out to be fairly straightforward qualifying campaign for Switzerland, who could not dent England’s perfect record in Group E but finished five points clear of Slovenia and scored 24 goals – albeit 11 of them against San Marino – in their 10 games. Early defeats to Roy Hodgson’s side and the Slovenians rang some alarm bells but they recovered to win seven of their last eight games, Shaqiri top-scoring with four goals while Seferovic and Josip Drmic – who will miss the finals through injury – scored three apiece.
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