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World Cup: Can Switzerland go further than they’ve gone before?

The Swiss will hope to cause trouble during the knockout phase in Qatar if they can escape a testing qualifying group.

Switzerland's Granit Xhaka
Swiss captain and combative midfielder Granit Xhaka (c) will hope to carry his recent bout of excellent form into the World Cup [File: Armando Franca/AP]

Previous World Cup appearances: 11
Titles: 0
Best finish: Quarter-finals (1934, 1938, 1954)
World Cup record: W12 D8 L17
Goals: 50
Biggest win: 4-1 vs Italy (1954), 4-1 vs Romania (1994)
Player to watch: Granit Xhaka
Ranking: 15
Fixtures: Cameroon (November 24), Brazil (November 28), Serbia (December 2)

Switzerland will be out to cause upsets in Qatar.

Led by Granit Xhaka, the Swiss squad possesses experience and quality in key midfield and defensive positions, but stern tests await in the shape of a strong group featuring serial winners Brazil, as well as Cameroon and Serbia.

Switzerland has featured at 11 World Cups since making its maiden appearance at the 1934 edition.

In recent decades, the Swiss have emerged as tournament regulars, with the side’s appearance in Qatar set to mark a fifth successive World Cup showing.

Highest finish

Switzerland’s equal best-ever World Cup run took place 68 years ago when they played host to the 1954 edition and squeezed their way to the quarter-finals.

Given the competition only featured 16 sides, the side’s position as runners-up in their group – which included England, Italy and Belgium – paved the way for entry to the last-eight.

However, the team proved unable to progress any further, losing a 7-5 thriller – the highest-scoring contest in World Cup history – to neighbouring Austria.

Switzerland had reached the quarter-finals twice before, during the 1934 World Cup in Italy and four years later in France, before losing to then-Czechoslovakia and Hungary at the respective tournaments.

Key player

Xhaka, 30, will be critical to Swiss hopes in Qatar. The highly experienced, combative central midfielder has been capped more than 100 times for his country and has displayed excellent form of late for his club side, Arsenal, in the English Premier League.

He has scored three goals and registered as many assists in just 13 league games so far, with his box-to-box play demonstrating his attacking prowess, as well as renowned defensive abilities and attracting widespread plaudits.

Xhaka’s flying start to the season has come after he played an instrumental role in Switzerland’s impressive run to the quarter-finals of the delayed Euro 2020 capped by the team’s penalty shootout victory over much-fancied France in the last-16.

His role in Qatar will be to function as Switzerland’s all-action central cog, linking up play between its defensive marshalls, such as Fabian Schar and Manuel Akanji, and attacking talents including Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo.

But his notoriously feisty temperament will be under the scanner once again, particularly when the Swiss face up against Serbia on December 2.

Xhaka, who is of Kosovo-Albanian heritage, was fined by FIFA for making an eagle hand gesture four years ago while celebrating scoring in a 2-1 win over the Serbs at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The nationalist gesture symbolises the double-headed eagle on Albania’s national flag.

Fans remain hopeful

Switzerland will have a sense of the familiar in Qatar, with two of their group G opponents – Brazil and Serbia – offering a repeat of the side’s 2018 tournament matchups.

Fans will certainly be hoping for a repeat of the results from four years ago when they held Brazil to a 1-1 draw and beat Serbia – as well as a victory against the group underdogs Cameroon this time around.

Switzerland, who are the 15th-best team in the world, according to the latest FIFA rankings, may struggle to progress further than the last-16.

But the team is certainly expected to represent a stubborn obstacle that more highly favoured opponents will do well to hurdle.

If Xhaka can carry his recent domestic form into the tournament, it is not beyond possibility that he could drive Switzerland further than they have ever gone before.

For the more than eight million Swiss who will be cheering the team on, joyous surprises could just be around the corner.

Source: Al Jazeera