Group E: Switzerland looking at a battle for second place

After the controversial playoff win over Northern Ireland the Swiss could be dark horses

Xherdan Shaqiri suffered relegation with Stoke but can make amends with Switzerland at the World Cup. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Xherdan Shaqiri suffered relegation with Stoke but can make amends with Switzerland at the World Cup. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

Switzerland (100-1)

Who are they?

Switzerland come into this tournament with the nation expecting one of their best ever performances. It’s not exactly a golden generation but it’s not too far off it with a group of players certainly capable of at least reaching the knockout stages.

On three occasions they have reached the quarter-finals but not since 1954. This year could be the year to end that barren run after racking up nine straight wins during qualifying and, since beating Northern Ireland in the playoffs, they have added two friendly wins.

World Cup moment

In 1954 the Swiss hosted the World Cup which turned out to be a record-breaking tournament with a number of goalscoring records set, including the highest average number of goals scored per game. While Switzerland went out in the first knockout round it was not without drama. Living up to the narrative of this being a pretty crazy tournament, Switzerland lost out to Austria on a scoreline of 7-5 - still the highest scoring game in World Cup history.

How did they get here?

Despite winning nine games and losing just one, Switzerland still had to go through the playoffs after Portugal beat them to top spot in Group B on goal difference. Ricardo Rodriguez’ first-leg penalty was enough to see them past Northern Ireland in the playoffs but not without controversy after the penalty had been given for an alleged handball by Corry Evans, despite the ball actually hitting his shoulder.

The gaffer

Vladimir Petkovic is a 54-year-old from Sarajevo who has been in charge of Switzerland since 2014 after taking over the job from two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. The former Lazio manager guided Switzerland to the last 16 of Euro 2016, losing only to Poland on penalties. Now fully settled into the job he will have the knockout stages of this World Cup in his sights.

The main man

There are a few to choose from here but one suspects Xherdan Shaqiri’s recent relegation with Stoke City could weigh on him a little bit. With that in mind it’s Granit Xhaka of Arsenal who could prove to be the key player for Switzerland. The 25-year-old acts as a bedrock in midfield, breaking up attacks and getting his own team moving forward. He started 37 of Arsenal’s 38 league games last season.

The one to watch

Denis Zakaria is a 21-year-old defensive midfielder who plays for Borussia Mönchengladbach and has already made nine appearances for Switzerland. Last summer he rejected offers from Liverpool and Arsenal but you suspect those sort of approaches could become more frequent if he performs well in Russia.

Denis Zakaria is the midfield powerhouse for Switzerland. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Denis Zakaria is the midfield powerhouse for Switzerland. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The verdict

With Brazil expected to top the group it looks set to be a tight battle between Switzerland, Serbia and Costa Rica for second place. If Switzerland are to emerge from that they could certainly reach the quarter-finals.

The squad

Goalkeepers: Roman Buerki (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 Schaer (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).

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