Safe, boring and neutral, with a side portion of Toblerone and cuckoo clocks. On first glance Switzerland may not be a side to get the pulses racing, but there are hidden depths to Vladimir Petkovic’s team and they’re well equipped to cause a few upsets in Russia.
The Swiss rightly considered themselves unlucky to have not booked their place in the 2018 World Cup automatically after an impressive qualifying campaign in which they won nine consecutive games and beat Portugal 2-0 at home, on the way.
However a 2-0 reverse to the Portuguese in their final group game saw them miss out on top sport through goal diffence and forced them down the play-off route, where they were paired with Northern Ireland.
A 1-0 win at Windsor Park was enough to see Switzerland’s progress to the World Cup although they rode they luck when Northern Ireland were denied a stonewall penalty in the first leg and Ricardo Rodriguez made a goal-line clearance in stoppage time in the second leg.
Placed in Group E alongside Brazil, Costa Rica and Serbia, Switzerland will back themselves to, if not top the group, then at least emerge from it.
The Swiss have a habit of raising their games for big opponents and with World Cup results against the likes of France and Spain in recent tournament, along with that qualifying victory over Portugal, Brazil may not hold as much fear for them as they do other sides.
Petkovic’s side get their campaign in Russia underway against the tournament favourites and while the Samba Boys will be expected to win, the Swiss almost have a free swing, with all the pressure on their opponents.
Their style of football is well suited to upset Brazil and other attacking teams too, they play a high energy, high pressing game with full-backs given licence to get forward and support – perfect for hitting teams on the break.
That approach can fall down slightly when they meet a side happy to sit back themselves, but as they showed in their qualifying campaign, they’ve started to work out how to adapt to teams who let them control possession and they have the players to create goal-scoring chances.
A 6-0 win in their last game against Panama, a side chosen because of their similarity in style to Costa Rica, bodes well for Petkovic as does the fact that his most important players are reaching the prime of their careers.
An midfield trio of Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka and Blerim Dzemaili have bags of experience and know how to manage and control a game, while wide-men Xherdan Shaqiri and Admir Mehmedi offer the flair and creativity going forward as well as helping Switzerland’s high pressing game.
The biggest problem that Petkovic has is a lack of a reliable central attacker to lead the line and it’s an issue he’s struggled with for some time, to varying degrees of success.
Haris Seferovic and Breel Embolo have both been deployed up front to little success while Josip Drmic is favoured by the manager, and is the more consistent goalscorer, but is injury prone and at 25 has already suffered two major injuries in his career.
Meanwhile, Dimitri Oberlin is a young and mercurial attacker and could offer something different for the Swiss with his boundless energy and foundness of running with the ball, but with just one cap and a lack of discipline, building an attacking line around the 20-year-old would represent a big gamble.
Regardless of who Petkovic goes with up front, Switzerland should have enough to get the better or Costa Rica and Serbia and line-up a potential quarter-final with Germany, Mexico or Sweden, so should you hitch your wagon to the Swiss hype-train, your should at least get value for your Franc.
Goalkeepers: Roman Buerki (Borussia Dortmund), Yvon Mvogo (Leipzig), Yann Sommer (Borussia Moenchengladbach)
Defenders: Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund), Johan Djourou (Antalyaspor), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Michael Lang (Basel), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Jacques-Francois Moubandje (Toulouse), Ricardo Rodriguez (AC Milan), Fabian Schaer (Deportivo La Coruna)
Midfielders: Valon Behrami (Udinese), Blerim Dzemaili (Bologna), Gelson Fernandes (Eintracht Frankfurt), Remo Freuler (Atalanta), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Denis Zakaria (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Steven Zuber (Hoffenheim)
Forwards: Josip Drmic (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Mario Gavranovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Haris Seferovic (Benfica)
You can follow the FIFA World Cup from 14 June with RTÉ. Live blogs of every game on RTÉ.ie and the News Now App, with 56 games live on RTÉ television and all 64 games available on the RTÉ Player.