The absence of several key players will make it difficult for the national ice hockey team at the World Championships in the Latvian capital.This content was published on May 5, 2006 - 14:03
Nearly half of the squad that battled it out in the Turin Olympics in February have said they would not be taking part in Riga, claiming injury or exhaustion.
Switzerland will face Italy in their first match of the tournament on Saturday. They are also up against Sweden and Ukraine in the group stage of the competition.
In the unlikely event that the Swiss squad win the final on May 21, each player will pocket SFr25,000 ($20,300). If they stay true to their form of the past four World Championships, they will crash out in the quarter-finals and receive SFr12,000.
The Swiss have previously been outclassed by teams such as Sweden, Slovakia, Finland, Russia, Canada and defending champions the Czech Republic.
"To get to the semis, the team are going to have to beat one of the 'Big Six'," said former player and coach Marc Leuenberger. "I think this year the young team put together by [coach] Ralph Krueger have a chance of doing that."
Leuenberger said Switzerland's surprise victories over ice hockey greats Canada and the Czech Republic on the way to the quarter-finals in Turin are serving as points of reference.
"The Swiss players are increasingly aware that they could win a medal," he said.
This year however Krueger, who has been coaching the Swiss team since 1997, has had to fall back on several second-choice players.
At least seven players who were at the Olympics in February have pulled out, citing injury or exhaustion.
Ice hockey is certainly very physically demanding, but for prestige the annual World Championships undoubtedly ranks behind the Olympics and the World Cup, which both take place every four years.
But Leuenberger says the motivation of those players who have turned up in Riga – and especially that of the rookies – remains undiminished.
At this year's Winter Olympics in Turin, Switzerland were beaten 6-2 by Sweden in the quarter-finals, who went on to win the tournament.
The defeat brought to an end Swiss dreams of advancing further in the competition, spurred on by surprise wins over Canada and the Czech Republic.
In the 2005 World Championships in Innsbruck Switzerland were again beaten by Sweden in the quarter-finals, but that time only 2-1.
The Ice Hockey World Championships started in 1920 and has been an annual tournament since 1930.
Switzerland's best result in the World Championships is a silver in 1935.
The most prestigious prize in ice hockey is probably gold at the Olympic Games.
Then it is the World Cup of Hockey, which like the Olympics is held every four years. The next World Cup is in 2008.
The World Championship takes place in Riga from May 5-21.
Ralph Krueger has been coaching the Swiss team since 1997. His best result is a fourth place at the 1997 world championships.
At least seven players who were in the Swiss team at the Turin Olympics have pulled out.
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