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Press praises Swiss coach for football glory

(swissinfo.ch)

Columnists and sports writers around Switzerland are full of praise and well wishes for the Swiss national football team that has qualified for the 2010 World Cup.

The 0-0 draw against Israel on Wednesday night put Switzerland at the top of their group, a success that many commentators said is thanks to the team's head coach.

Ottmar Hitzfeld, who will lead the Swiss to their ninth World Cup tournament, said joining the Swiss team was "the best decision of his life". The German has won just about everything there is to win at the club level but South Africa will be the first time he's taken a team to the World Cup.

With several key players sick, Hitzfeld still managed to get the job done through pragmatic, results-oriented play, the papers noted.

"He played with fire but he can now claim to have done everything right," the Basler Zeitung newspaper said. "That also applies to a 0-0 game."

Pressure off

The tie before 38,500 fans in Basel's St Jakob's Park was all Switzerland needed to solidify a spot in the knockout round of the World Cup, which begins in 239 days.

Greece, Switzerland's closest rival in the group, beat Luxembourg 2-1 on Wednesday, which still left them one point behind the Swiss.

While the free newspaper 20 Minuten burbled with joy – "Made it!" "Pride of a job well done", "simply fantastic!" – the Bern-based Bund newspaper was unimpressed. It called the deciding game "lacklustre" but "enough" and also attributed the team's success to Hitzfeld.

"The star of the team is the coach," the paper said, noting this is the fourth time in a row that the Swiss national team have qualified for a major tournament. "[Hitzfeld] has proven that he can also reach high goals with a moderately capable team."

The Bund said the squad, without him, would have a "dearth of talent" that only teamwork could overcome.

Under a headline, "Off to South Africa with a zero", the paper said for now the pressure seems to be off. Not qualifying for the knockout rounds would have been a disappointment, but now if the Swiss get kicked out early in South Africa, the "blues won't last long", the paper said.

"The true football fans will unwaveringly still follow the World Cup. They'll put aside their [Swiss] jerseys and slip one on from a Spanish or Brazilian player."

Where they were

The team might not be exceptional, the Geneva-based Le Temps admitted, but the qualification is all the sweeter if you look back at where the team was just a year ago or so.

The Swiss had a so-so performance during the Euro 2008 contest and then got off to a very rocky start to the 2010 World Cup qualification rounds. The team gave up a 2-0 lead to Israel to tie in Tel Aviv last year and then crumpled under a 1-2 loss to tiny Luxembourg.

"A year ago the team were slipping toward the bottom," the French-language newspaper wrote. "Given that, can one really complain about the aesthetic deficits displayed by the national team? No. Because in football only victory is beautiful."

It's also beautiful for Hitzfeld in another way, the Tages-Anzeiger noted. It was in this very stadium in Basel that a young Hitzfeld saw his first big football match and announced to his father that he was determined to be a footballer.

Le Temps said the team had greatly benefited from having a German coach, praising Hitzfeld's can-do attitude that sees defeat as an opportunity.

"That has created a team that is coherent, hard-working, efficient—and qualified," it said.

The Basler Zeitung agreed: "The team in its year and a half with Hitzfeld has done away with its chummy ways. Considering the new wholeheartedness, no one from today on will speak of a 'little school trip' when he's on the road with the team."

Tim Neville, swissinfo.ch

In brief

Switzerland's results:
06/09/08 drew with Israel 2-2 (away)
10/09/08 lost to Luxembourg 2-1 (home)
11/10/08 beat Latvia 2-1 (home)
15/10/08 beat Greece 2-1 (away)
28/03/09 beat Moldova 2-0 (away)
01/04/09 beat Moldova 2-0 (home)
05/09/09 beat Greece 2-0 (home)
09/09/09 drew with Latvia 2-2 (away)
10/10/09 beat Luxembourg 3-0 (away)
14/10/09 drew with Greece 0-0 (home)

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Who qualifies?

32 teams will play in the 2010 World Cup, sorted by geographical proportional representation: 13 from Europe, six from Africa, 4.5 from Asia, 4.5 from South America, 3.5 from North, Central America and Caribbean and 0.5 from Oceania. (The half teams have to face each other in play-offs.)

The 13 places allotted to Europe have been fought over by 53 teams – divided into nine groups – for more than a year.

The nine group winners qualify automatically and the remaining four places will go to the winners of play-offs – featuring the eight best runners-up – played over two legs on November 14 and 18. The draw for these matches will be held on October 19.

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Swiss World Cup history

1934 (Italy/quarterfinal/trainer Heinrich Müller)
1938 (France/ quarterfinal /Karl Rappan)
1950 (Brazil/first round/Franco Andreoli)
1954 (Switzerland/ quarterfinal /Rappan)
1962 (Chile/ first round /Rappan)
1966 (England/ first round /Alfredo Foni)
1994 (United States/last 16/Roy Hodgson)
2006 (Germany/last 16/Köbi Kuhn)
2010 (South Africa/ ? /Ottmar Hitzfeld)

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