Road to the Finals
As joint hosts with Austria, Switzerland did not need to qualify for the finals of the competition, and their last two years of preparation have been taken up with friendly matches. Indeed, their last competitive match came at the 2006 World Cup, where they exited the tournament after failing to score a single goal in a penalty shootout with Ukraine in the second round.
However, despite their scarcity of goals at the tournament, they did manage to top a group which contained eventual finalists France in it, and they did not concede a goal in open play throughout the whole tournament.
On Wednesday 16th August they took part in the first of 17 friendlies that would lead them up to the finals when they played Liechtenstein in an away match which they won 3-0.
They then proceeded to rack up wins against Venuezela and Costa Rica, before losing their last two matches of 2006, the first of which was a 2-1 loss to fellow co-hosts of EURO 2008 Austria.
2007 saw the team take part in ten friendly matches throughout the year, which presented some mixed results, starting with a loss to Germany and ending with a loss to Nigeria, but managing to get a few good wins on the way.
These successes included a 3-1 defeat of Austria in October, revenge for their match the previous year, and a 1-1 draw against Argentina.
However, by far their greatest triumph cam on 22nd August when they saw off the Netherlands 2-1 in Geneva, with both goals courtesy of Tranquillo Barnetta. The success marked the first time that the Swiss team had beaten a team ranked in the top ten for 14 years, the last one being Italy in 1993.
However, this triumph was dampened by losses to lesser opposition during the year in the form of the United States, Japan and Colombia.
On 6th February 2008 they visited England in a match at the new Wembley Stadium, but goals from Jermaine Jenas and Shaun Wright-Phillips saw them to a 2-1 defeat.
They then played host to Germany on 26th March 2008, but suffered a humiliating 4-0 defeat on their own turf, putting a huge dent in their confidence only three months before the finals.
This result means that out of all of their friendly games since the World Cup, they have won 7, lost 9 and drawn 1, and they will be hoping that they can use their home advantage to improve their chances come kick-off on 7th June.
Jakob ‘Köbi’ Kuhn has already stated that he will be retiring after the competition, to be followed by Ottmar Hitzfeld of Germany, and as such he will be hoping to go out with a bang.
His link with the national team began as a player, when as a talented midfielder he managed to accumulate 63 caps for his country, including a World Cup performance in 1966.
Since going into coaching, he has been involved with the national side for a number of years, having first taken charge of the Under-21 team. In the summer of 2001, he was asked to become the assistant to coach of the national side, Enzo Trossero of Argentina. He refused the post, but was later made the manager instead.
His first decision was to axe a number of the older members of the team, instead bringing in a number of young faces, and his tactics paid off when they ended up qualifying for EURO 2004, the first tournament finals since EURO 1996.
Despite failing to reach the quarter-finals, they have since qualified for the World Cup in 2006, and this will be their third tournament on the trot, making Kuhn one of the most successful managers in the country’s history.
Ones to watch
Alexander Frei – striker
Frei is hot on the heels of the Swiss all-time goal-scoring record, needing just three more goals to write his name in the record books. As captain of the team, he will be crucial in racking up more goals in their bid to please the home crowd, who may just give him that extra boost. He scored two goals in the last World Cup, but will be looking to increase that tally in this competition, and with the home advantage he may just be able to do that. He currently plays for Borussia Dortmand.
Phillipe Senderos – defender
The Arsenal defender is one of the key ingredients of the Swiss back formation which makes them very difficult to score goals past. Making his debut for the national team in 2005 in a 0-0 draw against France, he has become a crucial member of the Swiss setup, and even scored a goal at the last World Cup when they played South Korea. He will be looking to keep the Swiss famous for their clean sheets, as well as trying his luck with scoring a few goals of his own.
Tranquillo Barnetta – midfielder
Barnetta currently plies his trade at Bayer Leverkusen, where he is a key member of the team. He will be remembered by the Swiss fans for his penalty miss in the last World Cup that saw the team crash out of the tournament, but he made up for this by scoring a goal against Togo earlier on in the competition. He has since matured and found his place in the squad, and it was his goals that ensured success against Netherlands in their friendly victory in 2007. Although not a goal machine, he has managed seven goals for his club in the last season, and he can always be relied upon to produce a few surprises, meaning he will be one for the opposition to look out for.
The Swiss team have an undisputed defence, but their trouble lies in scoring goals. They lack the attacking power to really put the pressure onto the big teams, and unless this is counterbalanced they will be destined for an early exit.
They have also been hit by a string of injuries recently. Alexander Frei has been out for some time due to injury, which hasn’t helped on the goal-scoring front, although he should be back on form for the competition.
More serious injury problems exist with playmaker Xavier Margairaz, central defender Patrick Müller and midfielder Blerim Dzemaili all ruled out of the tournament.
However, they do have the home advantage which can provide a real boost in international competition, and their ability to prevent goals going in could well see them through to the quarter-finals, which Kuhn has stated will be the minimum they need to achieve for the competition to be a success.
Current FIFA ranking: 48