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Strong football ties bind Swiss and Germans

(Keystone)

Switzerland's World Cup campaign in Germany marks not only a highlight for the team, but also a continuation of a special football relationship with the host nation.

Former German player Uli Stielike, who coached the Swiss national side from 1989 to 1990, told swissinfo about the strong bond that exists between the two football playing countries.

The Swiss were the first side Germany ever faced as a recognised international association and their first opponents after both world wars and reunification. Germany also clinched their first World Cup triumph on Swiss soil in a 1954 final now known as "The Miracle of Bern".

"The bond with Switzerland represents the most well established and heartfelt connection Germany has with another country in football," Stielike said.

"This is especially so because Switzerland was the one country prepared to play Germany first after the Second World War. That gesture was a milestone in the footballing relationship between the two countries."

Stielike first arrived in Switzerland as a player for Xamax Neuchatel in 1984 and won the Swiss league title with the club a season later.

First opponents

After hanging up his boots, Stielike was appointed Swiss national team coach in 1989. One of his fondest memories in that role was taking Switzerland to Stuttgart as the first ever opponents of the newly reunified German team following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"This game was a really big moment for Germany and they wanted to play against Switzerland to show their appreciation of the connection between the two countries," he said.

"It was Germany's way of expressing their gratitude to the Swiss who had done so much for them in the past."

The World Cup final held at the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern in 1954, the year Stielike was born, is credited as being the defining match that shaped Germany's future as a powerhouse in world football.

Germans have fond memories of the day their side overturned a 2-0 deficit to beat strong favourites Hungary 3-2 and lift the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time.

Miracle of Bern

The game and the venue are so strongly imprinted on the German psyche that a feature film called "The Miracle of Bern" was made three years ago to commemorate the famous victory.

"Germans have a very special feeling towards Bern and the Wankdorf Stadium," said Stielike.

"The proof of this is that everyone is talking about that final and it is being shown continuously on German television in the build up to this year's World Cup."

But both Stielike and Swiss Football Association president Ralph Zloczower believe the final was just one step in a special relationship that existed long before 1954.

"The two federations have always had a very tight and special relationship. Everybody from Germany knows Bern since 1954 but the real bond was formed because the Swiss were the first team to play against Germany after both world wars," Zloczower told swissinfo.

"Historically we have a very close relationship because we are neighbours and 70 per cent of the Swiss population speaks the same language as the Germans.

"There is a special feeling when the two sides meet on the pitch and the Swiss football federation has always had a lot of support from Germany which has become a much bigger force in world football.

"For example, the German federation was very supportive of our successful bid to co-host the Euro 2008 tournament."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

In brief

The 1954 World Cup was the first and only time Switzerland has hosted the tournament.

Switzerland was chosen as the host venue because the year marked the 50th anniversary of football's world governing body FIFA, that had its headquarters on Swiss soil.

Germany defied the odds to win their first World Cup trophy, beating Hungary 3-2 in a dramatic final at the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern.

Uli Stielike was born that year in Germany and played for the German national side from 1975 to 1984. He played in Switzerland for Neuchatel Xamax (1985-1987), winning the Swiss championship, before coaching the Swiss national team (1989-1991) and later Xamax. He is currently coach of the German national under-19 side.

end of infobox

Key facts

Switzerland has played Germany 48 times, winning just eight times, drawing six games and losing 34. The latest match between the two sides at Basel in June, 2004 resulted in a 2-0 victory for Germany.
Key matches between Switzerland and Germany:
April 5, 1908 at Basel: Switzerland won 5-3 as Germany's first opponents after the creation of the German Football Association.
June 27, 1920 at Zurich: Switzerland was the first team to play Germany after the First World War, winning 4-1.
November 22, 1950 at Stuttgart: Germany ran out 1-0 winners in their first international game after the Second World War.
December 19, 1990 at Stuttgart: a 4-0 scoreline to a united German side playing their first international game since reunification.

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