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Poised for glory

Köbi Kuhn is the coach of Switzlerand's successful national football team

(Keystone)

After years of poor performances, Switzerland’s national football team seems to be getting back on track.

Coach Köbi Kuhn spoke to swissinfo about past problems and future hopes.

On Wednesday the Swiss beat Albania 3-2 in Geneva and they now lead their qualifying group by two points.

Only the group winners receive automatic qualification for Euro 2004, which is being held in Portugal.

swissinfo: After an eight-year absence from the European finals, Switzerland is now just one victory away from qualifying for Portugal 2004. How do you see the team’s current position?

Köbi Kuhn: I am very optimistic and the players are too. We are certainly capable of making it to Portugal. But with two matches remaining (against Russia and the Republic of Ireland) we won’t make the mistake of thinking that the job is already done.

I have told the players that it is like climbing Everest, because the last steps are always the hardest. But the summit is getting closer.

swissinfo: When you were appointed two years ago, after coaching the under-21 side, your lack of senior-level experience was a source of criticism. How have you managed to turn things around?

K.K.: It's true that the start was difficult and that the critics didn't spare me. The sniping that was going on certainly didn't help the team. I became convinced that it was necessary to rebuild the side and I stuck to that conviction. We have had some crises, but we have solved them together.

Now, the people who were criticising me are suddenly piling me with praise. But the truth is somewhere in between. I'm not the Messiah and I'm not a nobody. I work according to my conscience, I put forward my arguments and the players understand them.

swissinfo: Have you had to change anything in your approach to the game?

K.K.: No, my philosophy remains the same and it's based on hard work, solidarity and pleasure.

The players have grasped the importance of putting all their efforts into the team as a whole. Individuality is important in football but it can never be as strong as when everybody is pursuing the same objective.

swissinfo: Most of the players in the senior team are based abroad or have previous experience of playing for foreign clubs. How does that affect your work?

K.K.: It's a great advantage to be able to call on players who are based at some of Europe's most prestigious clubs. It means they know how to handle the pressure.

In the current squad we have a French league champion and a Dutch champion. Others are competing in the German and English leagues or battling at the top of the Swiss league with Grasshoppers or Basel.

It is perhaps a shame for Swiss football to see so many of its top players heading abroad, but for the national team it can be seen as a measure of our success.

swissinfo: Does it also explain the striking difference between the national team's fortunes and the financial difficulties of many of Switzerland's domestic league clubs.

K.K.: I don't think it's particularly unusual for small countries to send their best players abroad. The Swiss league has to think of itself as somewhere for the country's young players to develop. It's a situation already familiar to countries such as Sweden or Denmark.

The lack of money will force the clubs to choose other ways of running their affairs. The restructuring of the new top division (with a reduced membership of ten teams) and the building of large multifunctional stadiums are steps in this direction.

swissinfo: It's been eight years since Switzerland last qualified for the European Championships and ten years since the country last reached the World Cup. Where do you think the Swiss rank among Europe's footballing nations?

K.K.: Since taking charge of the national team I have always said that Switzerland can be a top 20 side. If we can achieve that aim, it means we will qualify much more frequently for the European Championships.

The results so far are showing that the work of recent years is starting to pay off. And that's what we need to continue in the years to come.

swissinfo-interview, Mark Ledsom and Mathias Froidevaux


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