Just two weeks after the final whistle blew on Euro 2004, Switzerland’s footballers are back in action as a new Super League season gets underway.
Neutral fans will be hoping defending champions FC Basel face a sterner test than last time around when they romped home with four games to spare.
Most Super League clubs began regular training back at the beginning of June to be ready for this weekend’s opening fixtures.
In France, the football season kicks off in three weeks' time, while British fans have a whole month to wait before the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United launch another Premiership campaign.
The reason for the early start in Switzerland is twofold: Swiss footballers take a break during the winter season because of the weather and to avoid clashing with another popular sport, ice hockey.
The team to beat will be last year’s pace-setters, Basel, who at one stage went 23 games without defeat and ended up winning by a margin of 13 points.
Any thoughts that the champions’ hunger might be diminished will surely have been dispelled by the team’s SFr25 million ($20.2 million) budget for the coming season.
Basel have already brought in six new players, including the Brazilian defender, Kleber, for a total of SFr9 million.
This should go some way towards compensating for the loss of Hakan Yakin and Marco Streller, who left the team for the German side, Stuttgart, earlier this year.
“It’s the best Basel team of all time,” said Gisela “Gigi” Oeri, a member of the board and the club’s main financier.
Manager Christian Gross has ambitious goals – especially in Europe where the club disappointed last season.
“I have formulated the target differently,” he said. “I have a higher requirement of the team this season: to be perfect.
“We also want to do well in the Champions League. This is a challenge we must accept and try to succeed at.”
According to Claude Ryf, coach of Switzerland’s under-18 team, Basel now have two decent players for every position. “That’s what you need to be successful at a European level,” he said.
On paper only four teams – Geneva’s Servette, last year’s runners-up Young Boys of Bern, FC Zurich and Grasshoppers Zurich – are likely to test Basel.
The biggest challenge is expected to come from Servette, who went on a massive shopping spree, bankrolled by their new owner, Roger Marc.
He has invested in 16 new players, taking advantage of new regulations which allow Swiss teams to field an unlimited number of players from European Union member countries.
With tried and tested players such as Romania’s Viorel Moldovan and Frenchman Stéphane Zianni, the Geneva club could also go far in the Uefa Cup competition.
The five teams without notable stars or funds, Aarau, St Gallen, Thun, Neuchâtel Xamax and freshly promoted Schaffhausen, look doomed to fight for survival in Switzerland’s top flight.
With limited financial means, they will have to rely on pride and team spirit to upset the established order.
“Basel spent more on its recent transfers than the combined annual budgets of Neuchâtel, Thun and Schaffhausen over the past two years,” said Ryf.
Some pundits, however, believe newcomers Schaffhausen could cause a stir.
Under their German coach, Jürgen Seeberger, the team from northern Switzerland have already achieved a “mission impossible”, climbing two leagues up to the top flight in only four seasons.
swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux
Basel are widely tipped to win the championship again.
Servette Geneva, Young Boys Bern, Grasshoppers Zurich and rivals FC Zurich are most likely to put up a challenge.
St Gallen, Thun, Neuchâtel Xamax, Schaffhausen and Aarau complete the field, but are expected to struggle to remain in the top flight.
The Super League is made up of ten teams, playing a total of 36 matches.
The championship starts on Saturday July 17, 2004.
Basel won the championship last season, ahead of Young Boys of Bern.