Euro 2016 – Switzerland

The Alpine country with a population of just eight million has qualified for the European Championships for the first time since 2008 and their fourth in total, however, the team has never progressed past the group stage. In their last appearance on home soil eight years ago, Switzerland finished bottom of a group that contained Portugal, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

Switzerland go into Euro 2016 with a very real chance of qualifying for the knock-out phases after being paired with France, Romania and Albania in Group A. On paper, the Swiss should be strong enough to take the second automatic qualifying spot, but they will have to be at their very best to break-down the defensively strong Romania and Albania who conceded just two and five goals respectively during the qualification process.

To find out a little more about their upcoming campaign and the players we should look out for in France, we spoke to Football Swiss – a Twitter account that discusses Swiss football at all levels  – a highly recommended account should you be a fan of, or looking for Swiss football news.

After finishing second behind England to reach the finals, what do you think of the team’s chances in Euro 2016?

I think for the most part, everything has went as expected in terms of the important qualifying games. I don’t think anyone expected Switzerland to beat England to top spot so to qualify in second place was the objective and the team did that well.

As for the Euros, I think second place is again the objective. To get out the group and see what happens after that, similar to our World Cup campaign. I think it’s assumed that France will top the group.

If you’d asked me about our chances a few months ago, I’d have been confident. Now, I’m not as confident. The team was very poor in friendly matches against Ireland and Bosnia in March. Hard to read too much into friendlies but it was really lacklustre.

Albania and Romania will give Switzerland a tough game. If Switzerland play at their best, they really should get out of the group but I don’t think it’s at all guaranteed.

Did the Swiss have any stand-out players during the qualifying process?

Not one player really stood out on his own throughout the campaign for me. A number of players contributed big moments at big times. Xherdan Shaqiri continues to be the star man and scored four goals on the way to qualification and he also scored the vital late winner away in Lithuania.

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Josip Drmić delivered for the team in a big way against Slovenia when the team was losing 2-0 at home. His goal brought Switzerland back into it and he scored the winner on 94 minutes. Valentin Stocker, usually on the periphery of the team, also scored to draw the team level.

Goalscoring is a bit of a problem though. While Shaqiri is usually good for a goal, guys like Haris Seferović and Drmić blow hot and cold. Breel Embolo could have a good tournament but he hasn’t exactly enjoyed a great goalscoring season at Basel with only ten goals in the league.

It seems that the team have been handed a good group having been drawn against France, Romania and Albania. How do you see the group panning out?

The group could’ve been harder for sure. For me, France will top the group. They have a lot of strength in depth, a very good team and home advantage. They should go far.

With first place assumed to go to them, it leaves the other three fighting for that second spot. I’d say Switzerland were favourites but that could be down to ignorance from those that still see Albania or Romania as minnows.

Romania seem to be strong defensively. They conceded only two goals in their qualifying campaign and didn’t lose a match while Albania pipped Denmark to second in their group and conceded only five, the same as group winners Portugal.

I’m going to say that Switzerland will grab second spot. Perhaps biased but my thinking is that Romania and Albania will cancel each other out when they play.

I don’t really see the teams pulling any surprises against France. I think France are streets ahead but at the same time, if teams are stubborn then France may find it hard to break them down.

What kind of tactics do you expect the Swiss to utilize in France?

As a fan, I’d expect Switzerland to go out and attack both Romania and Albania.

I’m not sure I’d say Switzerland were much better than those two but they aren’t worse and should definitely be looking to take the game to them and get the points to get out the group.

As for France, the best hope would be to try and catch them on the counter. The last meeting at the World Cup was a thrashing so hopefully that doesn’t happen again.

Who will be the key players for Switzerland in the summer?

Shaqiri always seems to be the key man. He delivered at the World Cup with that hat-trick versus Honduras but as I mentioned before, many players have contributed. Seferović scored a huge late winner against Ecuador at the World Cup but there is no guarantee he will be able to deliver at the Euros.

Embolo has much potential and a bright future and a good tournament would see his value rise.

Yann Sommer in goals is usually a reliable goalkeeper too as is Borussia Dortmund’s Roman Bürki.

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How are the team preparing for the Finals? We see they played friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and Bosnia & Herzegovina – will they be preparing in different ways?

Those friendlies are obviously in the past now but they were far from ideal preparation. The team put in two lacklustre performances and those displays are a big part of the reason why optimism is now quite low for the tournament, from my perspective anyway.

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Next up, there are friendly matches against Belgium and Moldova both at home. These are the two final warm-up matches before the opening game. The match against Belgium will be very difficult but a win should come against Moldova who are ranked a lowly 156 in the FIFA rankings.

All that said, Switzerland didn’t particularly do well in their friendly warm-ups for the World Cup either, labouring to wins over Peru and Jamaica. I guess you can’t read too much into them, even if they do put a dampener on expectations.

Are there any potential star players coming through the youth ranks and any that could possibly be in with a shout of making the squad?

The squad has been announced now and there wasn’t too many surprises, although Nico Elvedi of Borussia Mönchengladbach and Denis Zakaria of Young Boys, both of whom are 19, could win their first caps provided they aren’t cut from the pool that make up the provisional squad.

Shani Tarashaj who signed for Everton in January, is also in the squad and he looks a bright prospect for the future at just 21. Of course, there is also Breel Embolo who has much potential at the age of just nineteen and has already made nine appearances for the team.

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Vladimir Petković has been the coach for almost two years now, how do people feel about his time in charge?

I consulted @aulit_z on Twitter for this one as he knows more than me. He sometimes helps me with the account I run. Here was his view:

Petković is not universally liked. Part of it is his (and I hate to say this) foreign roots. Parts of Switzerland are still xenophobic. Another part is, some think the football on display is worse than under Ottmar Hitzfeld. Speaking of Hitzfeld, he was very well liked and people respected him. This may be a factor as well as some people still miss him.

In the end, it’s all about the success the team has. If we advance in the Euros, I can see the image of Petković changing.

What is the state of domestic football nowadays? Basle are always a tough team to beat in European competition but we don’t hear too much about other teams – why is that?

The league is one of the many around Europe these days that lacks competitiveness, at least for the title. It is very similar to the situations in France, Scotland, Germany and other countries in that one team just runs away with it and that team is Basel.

Basel are simply the strongest team, they possess the best players, consistently do well in Europe and are very astute in their dealings in the transfer market. They also have consistency which no other team can match throughout the season. Young Boys are the closest to them just now but they can never properly challenge due to a lack of consistency.

Other teams have had good moments, Young Boys reached the knock-out round of the Europa League last season and Sion managed to this season but these moments seem to be rarer now. Basel, more often than not, are Switzerland’s only real hope in European competition.

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The league does have its fair share of excitement though. This season in particular, the battle for Europe was contested to the final day, while the relegation battle involved FC Zürich and Lugano. Zürich are traditionally one of the teams normally challenging near the top so their relegation is a big deal. A 3-1 win over Vaduz wasn’t enough to save them as Lugano also won, beating St. Gallen 3-0.

A huge thanks goes out to Football Swiss for agreeing to the interview and answering our questions in such depth. If you are a fan of Swiss football please be sure to follow him on Twitter – you can find lots of updates about the Swiss Super League and national team!

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