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Frei frazzles Luxembourg

Young gun: Alex Frei celebrates the first of his three goals

(Keystone)

After scoring a hat-trick in Wednesday's World Cup qualifying match against Luxembourg, young Servette striker Alex Frei said his first full game for Switzerland's national football team had been a dream come true.

"I already felt great about making the starting line-up," said the 21-year-old forward, who only made his international debut on Saturday as a substitute during Switzerland's draw in Yugoslavia. "But to score three goals was incredible.

Frei's hat-trick was accompanied by goals from Servette colleague Johann Lonfat and Grasshoppers Zurich veteran Stéphane Chapuisat, helping Switzerland to a comfortable 5-0 win over Luxembourg.

"I definitely feel like I've earned my supper," Frei told swissinfo. "My move from Lucerne to Servette has really brought my game on."

Switzerland coach Enzo Trossero was forced to forced to watch the match from the stands after receiving a one-match touchline ban for arguing with the officials in Belgrade on Saturday. Fortunately the Argentinian trainer was able to sit back and watch a trouble-free performance on Wednesday.

"Frei certainly exceeded my expectations," Trossero said afterwards. "He put in an extraordinary performance. But it's too early to evaluate him properly. He's going to have to play some much tougher opponents first."

If Trossero's words were intended to bring Switzerland's new hero down to earth, it seems he needn't have bothered. After receiving the adulation of the Swiss fans, Frei insisted he was ready to get back to work.

"Football's a day-to-day business," he smiled. "If I shoot three metres over the crossbar for Servette on Saturday, nobody will be asking for me."

While Trossero is right to point out that Luxembourg were far from the strongest of opponents, Wednesday's win, coupled with the night's other results, have certainly boosted Swiss hopes of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup finals.

Russia held on to their position at the top of group one with a surprisingly narrow 1-0 win at home to the Faroe Islands. But a 1-1 draw between Switzerland's nearest rivals Slovenia and Yugoslavia helped Trossero's men climb into second place at the half-way stage of the qualifying process.

Only the eventual group winners are guaranteed a place at the finals, but if Switzerland were to finish in second place they could still qualify for the finals via a play-off match against another of the runners-up.

One man who seems to think the Swiss could make it is Luxembourg manager Paul Philipp, whose side have now played all the teams in the group.

"Yugoslavia would appear to have the best individual players," he reflected, "but not necessarily the best team. The Russians also seem to lack the collective spirit that they had three or four years ago.

"From what I've seen here, Switzerland don't need to cower in front of anyone. I think they've found that winners' mentality."

Swiss fans will have to wait until June to see if Philipp's assessment is accurate. Following an away trip to the Faroe Islands at the start of the month, Switzerland welcome Slovenia to Basel on June 6 for a match that could make or break the qualifying campaign.

by Mark Ledsom


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