The 2018 World Cup will be the 11th time Switzerland have made it to the tournament and, if everything goes to plan, it could be the first time they go beyond the round-of-16.
In three of their last four appearances they’ve made it out the group stage but lost in the first knockout match. Spain comfortably beat them 3-0 in 1994 but Ukraine, in 2006, and Argentina, in 2014, needed extra-time to progress to the quarter-finals.
However, this current side, managed by Vladimir Petković, is primed to make history.
There’s a perfect blend of youth and experience, fearlessness and knowhow in the 23-man squad he’s selected and though a group made up of Brazil, Serbia and Costa Rica isn’t the kindest, the manager has enough talent at his disposal to progress.
Road to the World Cup
Switzerland won nine of their ten matches during qualifying. For most teams this would’ve been enough claim top spot. However, they were pipped to first place by Portugal, who also claimed 27 points but finished ahead courtesy of their better goal difference.
Though Switzerland’s +16 goal difference was impressive, the Euro 2016 winners scored more and conceded fewer. However, Petkovic’s side put in their best performance of the group against Portugal at St. Jakob-Park, Basel, in the opening match of the group.
Goals from Breel Embolo and Admir Mehmedi secured a 2-0 victory. A statement if ever there was one. Their most impressive achievement, though, was the fact 14 players shared the 23 goals, with Haris Seferović top-scoring on four. That shows they aren’t over-reliant on an individual and have threats throughout the team.
A play-off match against Northern Ireland was all that stood in their way of qualifying for their fourth consecutive World Cup appearance. A Ricardo Rodrigíuez penalty was enough to decide the tie, with the left-back having to hook the ball off the goal-line in Basel to ensure victory.
An impressive 1-1 draw with Spain in a recent friendly shows this Swiss side shouldn’t be taken lightly.
As far as systems go in the modern game, the one the Swiss use isn’t fancy by any stretch of the imagination. They line-up in a 4-2-3-1 shape and look to play out from the back.
The wide forwards on both flanks often drift into central areas with the width coming primarily from the full-backs. When in possession they look to get as many players into the opposition’s penalty area as possible in an attempt to play the odds – the more attacking threats, the more chance of a goal.
The centre-backs split and one of the two centre-midfielders, usually Arsenal man Granit Xhaka, drops a little deeper with the other one tasked with quelling any possible counter-attacks. It’s a fluid system and it works well because the majority of the team are comfortable with the ball at their feet.
While they have players who can unlock a defence they don’t just rely on one game plan. With Rodrīguez and Arsenal-bound captain Stephan Lichtsteiner at full-back they have players who are able to get dangerous crosses into the penalty area.
Switzerland are a highly energetic team and their system revolves around this. Of those from Europe, Switzerland were in the top ten for possessions won in the middle third (25.23 times per 90) and attacking third (4.09) in qualification.
They recovered the ball 57 times on a per 90 minute basis – in the top 15 from those in Europe – and this undoubtedly has an impact on them as an attacking unit. It explains how they’re in the top five for shots per 90 with 18.8. They win the ball back in dangerous areas and work shooting positions during the transition.
Star player: Xherdan Shaqiri
The Stoke City attacker heads to the tournament in good form, despite the fact his club suffered relegation from the Premier League. He was involved in 15 goals last term – seven of those assists – and created 0.50 big chances per 90 minutes.
The Liverpool transfer target is a threat, especially when he’s allowed to cut inside onto his favoured left foot. He finished the 2017/18 season with a 47 per cent shot accuracy which shows he’s going to test the keeper on a regular basis. He’s not the only match winner the Swiss have at their disposal.
Embolo is an explosive attacker who could cause all kinds of problems if he’s given space while Josip Drmić and Seferović are both reliable goal scorers when presented with opportunities.
Manager: Vladimir Petković
Petković won the Italian Cup with Lazio in 2013 before he was given the daunting task of replacement the legendary Ottmar Hitzfield after the 2014 World Cup.
The 53-year-old guided Switzerland to the last-16 of Euro 2016 before losing to Poland on penalties.
It’s by no means an easy group and the Swiss are in a battle for second with Serbia. This group of players, however, has been together for a fairly long time and it’s this bond, coupled with their experience, that should see them progress into the knockout stages.
There it will be the luck of the draw but they have a solid defence, conceding just 0.6 goals per 90 during qualifying, and a number of potential game changers at their disposal.
Everything is geared towards them breaking their hoodoo and finally playing in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.