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Hockey players target top-eight finish

The Swiss have been enjoying success in the lead-up to the world championships Keystone

Switzerland’s national ice-hockey team are taking part in the world championships in Austria, with high hopes of building on recent successes.

Preparations for the competition have gone well and the Swiss are gunning for a top-eight finish for the third time in a row.

Last year in Prague, Switzerland reached the quarter-finals of the world championships for the fifth time in seven years, before losing to the 2002 champions, Slovakia.

The Swiss are hoping to do just as well, if not better, this time around in Vienna and Salzburg. A strong showing would certainly help coach Ralph Krueger, whose contract runs out next year after eight years at the helm.

The Canadian-German trainer, who wants to stay on, says he still gets a kick out of leading the team, despite the ups-and-downs over the years.

The players also want him to stick around. Defender Goran Bezina told swissinfo that the relationship between the coach and the team was second to none.

“It gets better every year,” he said. “The squad has been together for a number of years now and we all know each other very well. Everyone knows their place in the team.”

The players say they have confidence in the coach’s preparations and tactics, and the harmony within the team has resulted in a rich run of form.

In February the Swiss qualified for next year’s Winter Olympics in Turin, and they followed up this performance with a fine pre-tournament campaign.

In their last 13 games, Switzerland lost only once – to Finland – by the tiniest of margins (1-0).

Strong squad

Backed up by two top-class goalies with NHL experience – David Aebischer and Martin Gerber – a solid defence and an experienced forward line, the Swiss have plenty of reasons to look ahead with confidence to Austria.

Only four players will be taking part in their first world championships: Cyrill Geyer, Romano Lemm, Kevin Romy and the recently naturalised Canadian veteran, Paul Di Pietro.

But it will be far from plain sailing for the Swiss: their first game on Sunday will be against a formidable Czech Republic team.

The Czechs, world champions from 1999-2001, are packed with NHL players, including New York Rangers superstar Jaromir Jagr.

It will be the first time in a while that many North American-based players have competed on the same ice, after a labour dispute saw the NHL season cancelled.

Tough adversaries

The other two teams lying in wait for Switzerland in the preliminary round may not be as star-studded as the Czechs, but they are not to be underestimated either.

The Swiss have traditionally found it tough going against Kazakhstan, with two losses against the former Soviet republic in the late 1990s.

The match against old foes Germany could be the decider for Switzerland. A loss would see the Swiss go out of the competition before the quarter-finals.

But the Swiss do have a psychological edge over the Germans. Last year in Prague, Switzerland beat Germany 1-0, ending 12 year of frustration. Their previous victory over their neighbours was also in the Czech capital.

“Unlike before, we aren’t worried about going to the world championships. We go there to win now and not to lose,” said Bezina. “I think we can even look beyond the quarter-finals.”

swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux

The world ice-hockey championships run from April 30 to May 15 in Vienna and Salzburg, Austria.
Last year in Prague, the Swiss reached the quarter-finals before losing for the second time in as many years to Slovakia.
Canada have been champions for the past two years.

Switzerland face off against the Czech Republic (May 1), Kazakhstan (May3) and Germany (May 5) as part of the preliminary round in Group D.

Group A: Slovakia, Russia, Austria and Belarus
Group B: Canada, the United States, Austria and Belarus
Group C: Sweden, Finland, Ukraine and Denmark.

In February, Switzerland also qualified for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, beating Denmark, Japan and Norway for a place at the Games.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR