Kuhn sweats on injured stars
With the countdown to Euro 2008 ticking away, Swiss manager Köbi Kuhn is anxiously hoping that no more of his star players are struck down by serious injuries.
Key central defender Patrick Müller and midfield playmaker Xavier Margairaz have already been ruled out of the tournament, while others are facing a battle against time to get fit.
All 16 participating countries must lodge their final 23-man squads ten days before the European Championships, co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria, kick off on June 7. But the rigours of long domestic seasons are taking their toll.
Former FC Zurich midfield dynamo Blerim Dzemaili is a third knee injury casualty in addition to Müller and Margairaz. But the 22-year-old has a chance of making the cut despite seeing precious little action this season and has been selected for an under-21 match on March 26.
"Torn cruciate ligaments for Patrick Müller and Blerim Dzemaili, now Margairaz gets a serious injury. You always expect injuries in sport, but this number of injuries is ridiculous," lamented Kuhn in February.
"I have written off this competition. I'm out for six months - it starts in early June. I have a 0.00001 per cent chance of being ready. I'd so much have loved to be able to play in front of my home crowd," said Müller last December after rupturing knee ligaments.
Most of Kuhn's immediate problems focus on his back line, with Arsenal defender Johan Djourou struggling with a persistent groin problem and Borussia Dortmund full-back Philipp Degen recently undergoing his third ankle operation this season.
Both players are expected to return to fitness before June, but their absence does little for Kuhn's preparations as he tries to establish a probable line-up before the tournament begins.
A more recent casualty is left-back and defensive cornerstone Ludovic Magnin, who suffered a recurrence of an ankle injury playing for his German club VfB Stuttgart last week.
Magnin spent several weeks on the sidelines the last time he sustained the ligament damage in December and faces the prospect of another frustrating few weeks.
Basel FC striker Marco Streller and midfielder David Degen are minor injury worries having picked up niggles.
Better news for Switzerland is the return to action of captain Alex Frei in the friendly match against Germany on March 26. Shortly after being named skipper in March 2007, Frei broke down with a hip problem.
Surgery appeared to have solved the problem, but the treatment put extra strain on his right calf muscle that required Frei to go under the knife yet again to repair a tear.
However, the striker looks to have put his injury nightmare behind him in time to ease Kuhn's worries and set about the business of adding three more goals to his current impressive tally of 32 to become the leading Swiss goal scorer of all time.
swissinfo, Matthew Allen with agencies
Co-hosts Switzerland and Austria qualified automatically for the tournament, which takes place from June 7-29, 2008.
The 31 games will be played in four cities in Switzerland (Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich) and four cities in Austria (Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Vienna). The final will be held in Vienna on June 29. Switzerland will play its three qualifying matches in Basel.
The finals will be broadcast in 170 countries and are expected to be watched by an accumulated TV audience of some eight billion viewers.
Up to 5.4 million football fans are expected to follow the tournament in Switzerland, including 1.4 million from abroad.
This could generate estimated revenues of SFr1.5 billion, with a clear profit of SFr860 million for Switzerland, according to a Federal Sports Office report.
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