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Swiss ice hockey team prepare for Canadian challenge

Switzerland's ice-hockey team will face their toughest assignment yet on Thursday when they take on Canada in the quarterfinals of the World Championships. A place in the last four is the prize on offer, but history is not on the side of the Swiss.

Played eighteen, drawn two, lost sixteen - Switzerland's World Championship record against the Canadians is not one that the team will want to dwell on going into tonight's encounter. Perhaps more daunting than such long-term statistics is the current form of the Canadian side.

Having begun the tournament in a disappointing fashion - losing to the Norwegians and the Czechs - Canada have since won all three of their qualifying round matches, including a 5-1 thrashing of Finland and a 6-0 annihilation of Italy.

Switzerland's half-Canadian coach, Ralph Krueger, has emphasised the power of positive thought throughout Switzerland's so-far impressive campaign. But self-belief may be all the team have to rely on going into this evening's game.

Krueger's squad have been selected with physical strength in mind, but the Canadian players are even weightier, carrying on average seven kilos more than their Swiss counterparts. Nor does the extra weight hinder the skills of the North Americans. Coach Tom Renny is able to name a side entirely made up of players who make their living in the world's top league, the NHL.

Ironically Switzerland could take heart more from their recent defeats than from their successes. Losses to Sweden and Finland during their championship warm-up and to France in the tournament proper were all followed by impressive results.

Now the team just have to repeat that pattern, bouncing back from a sloppy defeat against Belarus in their last qualifying round match with a win that would eclipse even the victory over Russia. Once again, a strong defence will be essential, if Ralph Krueger is to be the only Canadian left smiling when the final buzzer goes.

by Mark Ledsom


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