Missed goals – the year in football
Switzerland's failure to reach next year's World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea was the clear low point for the country's footballers in 2001.
In another turbulent year for the national side, Switzerland were forced to find a new coach in the closing stages of the World Cup qualifying campaign while the end of the year raised questions as to the future role of the country’s veteran stars.
Despite some strong away performances, Switzerland’s disappointing results on home soil undid any chances of the team reaching the 2002 finals. Having lost undeservedly in their opening home match against Russia in September 2000, the Swiss team in June suffered an almost identical fate against Slovenia.
Dominating the game in Basel almost from start to end, Switzerland nevertheless found themselves leaving the pitch as losers after a rare mistake by Stephane Henchoz allowed the Slovenians to grab a late winning goal.
Trossero calls it quits
The defeat meant that Switzerland would probably have to win all three of their remaining matches to reach the World Cup finals, but coach Enzo Trossero wasn’t prepared to stick around and find out.
Just two days after the Slovenia loss, Trossero handed in his resignation before returning to his native Argentina.
In his place, the Swiss football association opted for homegrown talent, promoting former Under-21 coach Köbi Kuhn to head the senior side.
No coup for Kuhn
The former FC Zurich midfielder was unable to stop the rot, though. Despite a promising friendly win away to Austria in August, the Swiss were to lose two of their three remaining qualifiers with September’s 2-1 defeat at home to Yugoslavia effectively ending the World Cup dream.
The defeat also appeared to have ramifications for the likely line-up of the team in 2002, with Henchoz and veteran striker Stephane Chapuisat quitting the Swiss camp in frustration at having been left on the bench. Kuhn has since indicated that the two stars may now have played their last international matches.
The international headlines may not have made good reading for Swiss fans in 2001, but for the country’s individual players and clubs there was also much to celebrate in the past 12 months.
As the Swiss senior side contemplated a disappointing end to the year, their counterparts in the Under-21 side were celebrating a milestone achivement.
After coming through their qualifying group for next year’s European Championships without losing a single match, Kuhn’s former protogés completed a play-off victory over Ukraine to reach their first ever European finals.
Under new coach Bernard Challandes, the Swiss juniors will have the added advantage of playing on home soil at the 2002 event, following a successful bid by the Swiss FA to host the Under-21 tournament.
The chase for the domestic league title was one of the tightest in recent memory with Grasshoppers Zurich only clinching the championship on the final day of the season thanks to a 4-0 win over rivals St Gallen.
Grasshoppers’ 26th league title was also their first in three years and marked a return to form for Switzerland’s biggest club. The celebrations didn’t last long for coach Hans-Peter Zaugg, though.
Appointed in June 2000 after a brief spell as caretaker manager of the national side, Zaugg won high praise from his employers after winning the title in his first season at the club.
Alleged rows with the board over the need for new players and the subsequent failure to qualify for the European Champions League soon saw the relationship turn sour, though, with Zaugg recently being told that his contract will not be renewed in the summer.
Servette surprise in Europe
A third round exit in the UEFA Cup at the hands of English Premier League side Leeds United brought a wintry end to Grasshoppers’ European hopes, but one Swiss club will be flying the flag on the continent in 2002.
After two seasons of underachievement, Servette Geneva finally started to realise their potential this season in Europe at least, knocking top division sides Slavia Prague, Real Zaragoza and Hertha Berlin out during the opening three rounds.
In February, Lucien Favre’s team are set to face what’s likely to be their greatest challenge yet when they come up against Spanish side Valencia, losing finalists in the prestigious Champions League competition for the past two seasons.
While it may still be too early to talk about a renaissance in the national league, particularly when one considers the financial difficulties still plaguing several top division clubs, the success of Swiss players based abroad also gave some indication of a rise in playing standards.
Ciriaco Sforza (Bayern Munich), Johann Vogel (PSV Eindhoven) and Ramon Vega (Glasgow Celtic) all won league titles with their respective clubs in the summer but were beaten to the award for best player abroad by Stephane Henchoz whose Liverpool team managed to clinch two domestic trophies before lifting the UEFA Cup and securing a place in this season’s Champions League.
On talent alone, Henchoz would be a natural choice to lead Switzerland’s national side out of its World Cup doldrums in time for the European Championship qualifying programme. Before that can happen, though, the Liverpool defender and the Switzerland coach will have to resolve the differences which emerged in 2001.
by Mark Ledsom
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