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Kuhn faces first test

Kuhn takes charge of his first training session in Vienna

(Keystone)

One day after launching their joint bid to host the European football championships, Switzerland and Austria are set to square off against each other on Wednesday in a friendly match which also marks Köbi Kuhn's first game in charge of Switzerland.

Despite Tuesday's display of warmth between the two neighbouring countries, the 57-year-old Swiss coach is in no doubt that Wednesday's encounter will be a serious affair, with both teams looking to gain valuable practice ahead of the next round of World Cup qualifiers.

"It's important," Kuhn told swissinfo, "because in just over two weeks we play against Yugoslavia, and I have to see how the team can play against the Yugoslavians. It may be a friendly but it's very important."

History favours Austrians

History is not exactly on the side of the Swiss in regards to their previous games against Austria. Much was made during Tuesday's Euro 2008 bid launch of the 1954 World Cup match which saw the Austrians come back from 3-0 down to trounce the Swiss 7-5, and things haven't gone Switzerland's way much since then.

With a record of just seven wins from a total of 36 meetings, including just one victory in 16 matches on Austrian soil, Switzerland could be forgiven for seeing Wednesday's game as an exercise in damage limitation. Kuhn though remains upbeat about his team's chances.

"Any team of mine has to step onto the pitch with the aim of winning, not just going out there to avoid a defeat," Kuhn claims. "Austria are within our capabilities. Whichever team can be the most decisive in the tackle, run the most and play the most intelligent game, will win this match."

Wednesday's match is due to be held in the Ernst-Happel stadium, the proposed venue for the final of the 2008 European Championships, should Switzerland and Austria be given the chance to stage the tournament. With up to 25,000 fans expected, the friendly game should offer a triumphant start for the team behind the Euro bid.

Expectations

Whether or not the match also gives Kuhn a winning start to his time in charge of the Swiss team, expectations about the team's chances of qualifying for the imminent World Cup finals are not likely to rise or fall dramatically.

Kuhn has hardly inherited the best of World Cup outlooks from his predecessor Enzo Trossero. Without a home win in their campaign to date, Switzerland are currently third in their qualifying group and would appear to need three wins from their remaining three matches to have any hope of reaching the finals in Japan and South Korea.

Nevertheless, having now spoken to his entire squad about the country's chances, Kuhn insists the chase is still on for a place at the 2002 tournament. He also believes that the bid for the 2008 European Championships could yet have a knock-on effect on Switzerland's hopes for next summer.

"So many people from the government and from the world of sport are backing this bid," Kuhn reasons, "that I'm sure they will give us the spirit we need to win this fight."

Wednesday's match against Switzerland's neighbourly rivals and new bid partners may not carry any World Cup points, but if the national team's new coach is to be believed, the battle for Japanese glory will begin in the Austrian capital.

by Mark Ledsom, Vienna

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