In recent years, Switzerland have earned their stripes on the international stage and, with a well-balanced side, Vladimir Petkovic could well be on the verge of taking the Swiss into the latter stages of a major tournament.
Their previous best came in their home World Cup of 1954 in which the Swiss made it to the quarter-finals. This time around, though, a quarter-final might be just too much to ask of them.
Switzerland are joined in Group E by Brazil, Serbia and Costa Rica, and they will come face to face with strong contenders Brazil in their opening match on June 17th.
Although they are hardly on anybody’s radar as far as the tournament is concerned, the Swiss do have couple of exciting prospects on the field.
Everyone knows Xherdan Shaqiri, scorer of one of the goals of the tournament at Euro 2016, but Denis Zakaria has made a name for himself in the Bundesliga playing for Borussia Monchengladbach.
He’ll find himself playing alongside another Gladbach alumnus in Granit Xhaka who now plies his trade at Arsenal.
Switzerland, then, could be one of the surprise packages of the tournament. With a group that is there for the taking – Brazil notwithstanding – they could find themselves in the knock-out stages by the time the group stages come to a close.
Route to the finals
Switzerland’s qualification run was near perfect. Nine wins and one defeat at the hands of Portugal forced Petkovic to settle for second spot, sending them into the play-offs.
In a tense encounter with Northern Ireland, the Swiss managed to do just enough to secure their fourth consecutive World Cup spot.
Averaging at two goals a game in qualifying, the Swiss operated well as a unit against the underwhelming opposition including Latvia, Faroe Islands, Hungary and Andorra.
A 2-0 home victory against Portugal was the highlight of their ten fixtures.
Vladimir Petkovic sets up Switzerland in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Granit Xhaka and Denis Zakaria playing as a double pivot in the midfield areas.
With Yann Sommer sat behind a back four which includes Borussia Dortmund youngster Manuel Akanji, Stephan Lichtsteiner brings his experience at right back: the 34-year-old expected to wear the captain’s armband in Russia.
With the craft and guile of Xherdan Shaqiri and Steven Zuber either side, Haris Seferovic will lead the attack, having picked up four goals in qualification despite being out of favour at Benfica.
Key player: Xherdan Shaqiri
Xherdan Shaqiri is a special talent.
Despite suffering relegation with his club side Stoke City this season, the 26-year-old shone in red and white throughout the Premier League season, his composure and strength on the ball proving fundamental for Stoke’s limited success.
The Swiss are more organised than Stoke were this season and the chance to with a striker like Seferovic will work wonders for Shaqiri’s game. The Benfica striker will relish the chances that Shaqiri can create for him.
Seferovic’s place, however, is not assured in the Swiss starting XI. With this in mind, it is crucial that Shaqiri can form a relationship with whoever starts up front from his position wide of a midfield three.
Shaqiri is no stranger to the big stage. His hat-trick against Honduras at the last World Cup announced him onto the world stage.
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Costa Rica.
Dark horses for the tournament may be a stretch. However, if Switzerland can escape their group, then expect Switzerland to ruffle a few feathers in the knockout rounds.
Switzerland outshone Serbia in qualification and are likely to do the same in Russia. The Swiss are a well-organised outfit and have more than a decent chance of qualifying.
After losing in extra-time in 2014, Petkovic is looking to extend his unbeaten run at the finals beyond four matches (one win, three draws).
They are likely to start on the back foot against the Brazilians, however, expect Vladimir Petkovic’s side to turn their fortunes around in their second and third matches as the World Cup puzzle starts pieces together.
Prediction: Round of 16 exit
Switzerland have a great opportunity of escaping their group.
With Brazil in the group, the top spot is almost certainly out of reach. However, Petkovic’s side could sneak through in second place, more than likely setting up a Round of 16 match against the reigning champions Germany.
At this point, though, you would have to expect the Swiss adventures in Russia to be over.
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