Two months after beating Portugal but still being eliminated from Euro 2008, which they were co-hosting, Switzerland face Cyprus in Geneva on Wednesday night.This content was published on August 20, 2008 - 12:55
The friendly is the first with German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld at the helm and will be a useful warm-up and learning exercise before qualification for the 2010 football World Cup begins in September.
Switzerland's win over the Portuguese – admittedly a reserve team, since Luiz Felipe Scolari's team had already qualified – was their first ever victory in the European Championships and their last match under Köbi Kuhn.
Hitzfeld will be taking plenty of notes when his boys in red and white, currently 44th in Fifa's world rankings, take on the 62nd-ranked Cypriots, before things get serious against Israel on September 6.
"I'm struck by how little time there is to work," he said. "Here in Geneva the players have been available to me for only two days. And we'll have played only one match when we go to Tel Aviv. When I was at Dortmund or Bayern Munich, we used to have about a dozen friendlies spread over six weeks."
As a result several of the Swiss team will most likely be getting their first caps for their country.
"As time is precious, I need to see in action those players who didn't feature in Euro 2008," he said.
In with the new
The four new faces in Hitzfeld's first squad are midfielders Almen Abdi of FC Zurich and Aarau's Sandro Burki, defender Alain Nef of Udinese and Basel's teenage striker Valentin Stocker.
On Monday Hitzfeld also named Arsenal defender Johan Djourou to replace injured teammate Philippe Senderos.
Djourou was promoted from the under-21 squad after Senderos sustained a hamstring injury.
"I don't even know if Senderos will be fit again for Israel," said Hitzfeld. "That's why it was really important to me to have Djourou with us."
The 21-year-old Djourou, selected 17 times for his country, played in Arsenal's 1-0 win against West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on Saturday.
Out with the old
Left-back Ludovic Magnin will captain Switzerland against Cyprus in the absence of striker Alex Frei, who is rehabilitating a knee injury which ended his European Championship in June after less than 45 minutes.
Hitzfeld said Frei has not yet been able to complete a full training session with his German club Borussia Dortmund.
"We hope that he'll return as soon as possible," Hitzfeld said. "But you can imagine that Dortmund won't want to release him before he's even played a minute for them."
Striker Marco Streller is also out injured and experienced centre-back Patrick Müller is without a club since being released by French champions Lyon in the summer.
"I hope that Patrick finds a team by August 31," Hitzfeld said. "If he doesn't find a team and has to take a break, then that will be a loss for Swiss football."
On paper the Swiss should beat Cyprus – the island with a population of 800,000 has never qualified for a European Championships or World Cup. On grass however the Swiss were almost embarrassed in a qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup which was heading for a 0-0 draw until Alex Frei spared Swiss blushes in the 88th minute.
On Wednesday Hitzfeld expects a convincing win.
"We have to play this match aggressively," he said. "I expect from my team that they will dominate it."
Switzerland are in European qualifying Group 2 for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa along with Greece, Israel, Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg. The nine group winners qualify directly and the best eight runners-up will play home-and-away play-off matches for the remaining four places.
swissinfo, based on an article in French by Mathias Froidevaux
Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (VfL Wolfsburg), Eldin Jakupovic (Grasshopper).
Defenders: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Lazio), Stephane Grichting (Auxerre), Alain Nef (Udinese), Johan Djourou (Arsenal), Steve Von Bergen (Hertha Berlin), Christoph Spycher (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ludovic Magnin (Stuttgart).
Midfielders: Valon Behrami (West Ham), Almen Abdi (Zurich), Sandro Burki (Aarau), Gelson Fernandes (Manchester City), Gokhan Inler (Udinese), Benjamin Huggel (Basel), Johan Vonlanthen (Salzburg), Tranquillo Barnetta (Bayer Leverkusen).
Forwards: Eren Derdiyok (Basel), Valentin Stocker (Basel), Blaise Nkufo (Twente), Hakan Yakin (Al-Gharafa).
Hitzfeld was born in 1949 in Lörrach, Germany, close to the Swiss border. He is coach of Bayern Munich until the beginning of June and has already won the League Cup and German Cup, with the league title beckoning by the end of the season.
Köbi Kuhn's successor will coach the Swiss national team from July 2008.
Hitzfeld won the Swiss league title with FC Basel in 1972 and 1973. He was top league scorer with 18 goals in 1973.
Hitzfeld won back-to-back league titles as coach of Zurich Grasshoppers in 1990 and 1991. He was also three-times Swiss Cup winner as a coach in Switzerland.
In Germany Hitzfeld has won the league title six times – twice with Borussia Dortmund and four times with Bayern Munich.
His biggest achievement was winning the Champions League in 1997 and 2001. Both times he was named "World Coach of the Year".
2010 World Cup qualifiers