World Cup preview: Switzerland

Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia, Sports Mole previews Switzerland's chances as they arrive at the tournament ranked sixth in the world by FIFA.

If the FIFA rankings are to be believed, Switzerland should arrive at this summer's World Cup in Russia among the favourites to go all the way and lift the trophy.

Rated as the sixth-best team in world football - above the likes of France and Spain - Switzerland would still be an unlikely bet to go any further than their previous best World Cup finish of the quarter-finals.

The Switzerland team line up before their friendly with Japan on June 8, 2018© Reuters

Vladimir Petkovic's have built plenty of experience on the biggest stage, though, and their qualifying campaign suggested that they can compete with some of the best in the world.

Here, Sports Mole assesses Switzerland's chances at this summer's World Cup.


GROUP

Switzerland will not have been too upset by the Group E draw, having been placed alongside Brazil, Costa Rica and Serbia.

World Cup Group E

As five-time champions, Brazil will of course be favourites to top the group, while Switzerland will be wary of Costa Rica in particular following their giant-killings at the 2014 World Cup.

The Swiss will nonetheless be confident of reaching the last 16, although their opening match against Brazil could be crucial to avoiding defending champions Germany in the first knockout round.

SWITZERLAND FIXTURES

June 17: Brazil vs. Switzerland (7pm, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don)
June 22: Serbia vs. Switzerland (7pm, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad)
June 27: Switzerland vs. Costa Rica (7pm, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

It quickly became clear that Group B in World Cup qualifying would be a straight shootout for top spot between Switzerland and Portugal, and the Swiss drew first blood with a 2-0 win against the Euro 2016 champions in their very first game of the section.

The goals from Breel Embolo and Admir Mehmedi gave Switzerland a head start which they maintained throughout the group stage, with victory over Portugal being the first in a run of nine straight qualifying wins.

Switzerland's players celebrate their qualification for the 2018 World Cup© Reuters

Switzerland recorded five successive clean sheets at one stage too, but crucially Portugal were keeping within arm's length of the leaders and scoring more goals along the way.

That set up a final-day showdown between the two sides in Lisbon, where a 2-0 win for the hosts saw them leapfrog the previously-perfect leaders into the only automatic qualifying spot in dramatic fashion.

Despite only failing to win that last game throughout their campaign, Switzerland were condemned to the playoffs, although it only proved to be a one-month delay before their place at the World Cup was confirmed.

Drawn against Northern Ireland in the playoffs, Ricardo Rodriguez's controversial penalty in Belfast was enough for a 1-0 win on aggregate as Switzerland held out for a goalless draw in Basel three days later.


RECENT FORM

Switzerland have justified their sixth-in-the-world ranking during their recent batch of friendlies, scoring nine times and conceding none in wins against Panama, Greece and Japan.

There was also a 1-1 draw with Spain during that three-month unbeaten run, with Ricardo Rodriguez cancelling out Alvaro Odriozola's opener in Villarreal earlier this month.

Switzerland's players celebrate a goal during their World Cup warm-up match against Japan on June 8, 2018© Reuters

Die Nati have lost just one of their last 17 matches since being knocked out of Euro 2016 by Poland, in fact, winning an impressive 14 of those, including a 2-0 triumph against Euro champions Portugal in their opening qualifier.

Momentum and belief is certainly not lacking as far as the Swiss are concerned heading into the tournament, then - now they have to put it to good use.


SQUAD

Switzerland World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Roman Burki (Borussia Dortmund), Yvon Mvogo (Leipzig), Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach).

Defenders: Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund), Johan Djourou (Antalyaspor), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Monchengladbach), Michael Lang (Basel), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Jacques-Francois Moubandje (Toulouse), Ricardo Rodriguez (Milan), Fabian Schar (Deportivo La Coruna).

Midfielders: Valon Behrami (Udinese), Blerim Dzemaili (Bologna), Gelson Fernandes (Eintracht Frankfurt), Remo Freuler (Atalanta), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Steven Zuber (1899 Hoffenheim), Denis Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach).

Forwards: Josip Drmic (Borussia Monchengladbach), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Mario Gavranovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Haris Seferovic (Benfica).


STAR PLAYER - Xherdan Shaqiri

Xherdan Shaqiri in action for Switzerland on June 8, 2018© Reuters

After suffering relegation from the Premier League with Stoke City this season, Xherdan Shaqiri will use the World Cup finals to showcase his talents to an even wider audience.

The 26-year-old can be devoid of any major blame for the Potters' drop into the second tier, and it seems almost certain that his £12m break clause will be met by a Premier League suitor following this summer's tournament.

Shaqiri will still feel that he has a point to make in Russia, though, and with his ability to score out-of-this-world goals he could certainly capture headlines this summer.

While goals and assists were not much of a problem at club level last season, Shaqiri found the back of the net just once during Switzerland's qualifying campaign - a record that certainly needs improving.


MANAGER - Vladimir Petkovic

Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic on November 12, 2017© Reuters

Having spent the majority of his coaching career in his adopted Switzerland, Petkovic came to wider attention when he was appointed as Lazio manager in 2012.

The Bosnian-born boss won the Coppa Italia in his first season at the club, but his time in the capital came to a premature end in January 2014 when it emerged that he had been in talks with the Swiss FA to become their new head coach after that summer's World Cup.

Petkovic has since led the nation to the last 16 at Euro 2016 and into the top 10 of the FIFA rankings, but this summer will give him his first taste of the World Cup.

As a player, the 54-year-old former midfielder spent most of his career in the lower leagues of Yugoslavia and Switzerland, but he has enjoyed significantly more success as a coach.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Quarter-finals (1934, 1938, 1954)

Switzerland's players celebrate qualifying from their group at the 2014 World Cup© Reuters

Russia 2018 will be Switzerland's fourth successive appearance at a World Cup, having qualified for just one of the previous nine before Germany 2006.

Four years ago in Brazil it took an extra-time strike from Angel Di Maria to knock them out in the last 16 after they had finished second behind France in the group stages, while they also reached the knockout rounds in 2006, when they were eliminated despite not conceding a single goal throughout the tournament.

Indeed, Switzerland have only failed to qualify from the group stages in four of their previous 10 appearances at the World Cup, and just once in their ongoing run of three successive showings.

Not since hosting the tournament in 1954 have they made it as far as the quarter-finals, though, when they beat Italy twice in the group stages before losing a 12-goal thriller 7-5 at the hands of Austria.

Switzerland were also quarter-finalists in 1934 and 1938, being eliminated by Czechoslovakia and Hungary respectively in those two tournaments.

Overall, Switzerland have played 33 matches at the World Cup, winning 11 of those with six draws and 16 defeats, while scoring 45 goals and conceding 59.


PREDICTION

Switzerland's warm-up results have been impressive, and their FIFA ranking suggests that they should reach the quarter-finals at least in Russia, but we're predicting a disappointing tournament.

Our projection has them finishing level on two points with Serbia and Costa Rica in Group E, but propping up the rest by the narrowest of margins on goal difference.

VERDICT: Fourth in Group E

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How far will Switzerland go at this summer's World Cup?

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Spain manager Julen Lopetegui watches on during an international friendly with Germany in March 2018
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