European Football Championship 2008: Euro-Files Switzerland
But does Kuhn have the players to deliver perfect football? Much will depend on the form of goalscoring skipper Alexander Frei, whose strike rate – 32 goals in 56 games – is spectacular; he needs just three more goals to become Switzerland’s all-time top scorer. His 6ft 5in partner, Marco Streller, has been almost as consistent, scoring 11 in 25 games. But Kuhn will be hoping that Johan Vonlanthen, the youngest player ever to score in a European Championship (in 2004), rediscovers his early form after playing for four clubs in the past four years.
Experienced playmaker Hakan Yakin – the 1 in Kuhn’s 4-3-1-2 system – is not just a creative spark but a dependable source of goals. He’s number nine, no less, in the Castrol Performance Index top ten strikers, above such sought-after names as Nicolas Anelka, David Villa and Frank Ribéry. Streller (15) and Vonlanthen (17) also feature in the CPI top 20 - Frei is recovering from a hip operation (see http://euro2008.castrolindex.com/Stats.aspx?language=en&type=4).
In midfield, Tranquillo Barnetta, the 22-year-old midfielder, was shortlisted for best young player in the 2006 World Cup, although he was one of three Swiss players to miss from the spot in the penalty shoot-out against the Ukraine. (Barnetta is currently his country’s highest-ranking midfielder – at 13 – in the CPI, see http://euro2008.castrolindex.com/Stats.aspx?language=en&type=5) Sven-Göran Eriksson reckons that Manchester City midfielder Gelson Fernandes is “the best young player in Switzerland” and fearless Benjamin Huggel brings bite to the centre of midfield.
Experience and promise
In defence, Kuhn can call on experience and promise. Older heads are Pascal Zuberbühler (37) in goal, Patrick Müller – though his cruciate-ligament injury has all but ruled him out – and Ludovic Magnin, the team’s highest ranked player in the CPI and currently the fourth best defender of all the qualified teams (see http://euro2008.castrolindex.com/Stats.aspx?language=en&type=6). Alongside them will be the youthful Arsenal duo of Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou.
In 2006, the Swiss became the first team not to concede a goal in normal time in a World Cup finals and Kuhn will be hoping they will defend as tightly this summer.
The coach has also hinted that the door is ajar for two young hopefuls – midfielder Pirmin Schwegler (20) and striker Julián Estéban (21) – to join the squad. Fiorentina’s Swiss-born midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanovich, who has played for the Swiss Under-21s, would probably have been selected but he’s opted to play for Serbia. Eren Derdiyok, the 19-year-old striker who scored six goals in four games for the Under-21s in last summer’s European championships, also has a chance to impress against England on 6 February while Frei recovers.
The Swiss should never, Kuhn says, set out to kill a game but he will be sorely tempted to play for a draw in the crucial opener against the Czech Republic, knowing that a win over Turkey would position them nicely for a place in the last eight, albeit as runners-up to group favourites Portugal. The last time Switzerland and Turkey met, in the 2006 World Cup play-off, the teams scuffled in the tunnel. But Kuhn insists: “We’re looking forward, not back and anticipating a clean fixture.”
Switzerland have only won one international trophy – the UEFA Under-17 Championships in 2002 – but Euro 2008 will be Kuhn’s third successive major tournament with the national team, and they would probably have qualified even if they hadn’t been co-hosts. After a relatively kind draw, a place in the quarter-finals is the least the nation expects. Anything better would be almost, as Kuhn and Fairground Attraction might say, perfect.
For more news on the European Football Championship 2008 please visit http://www.castrolindex.com
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