Three weeks after Switzerland’s footballers returned winless from Euro 2004, the nation’s junior players will be hoping to restore the country’s battered pride.
They are taking part in the under-19 European Championships, which kicked off in Switzerland on Tuesday.
The Swiss are among the favourites to lift the trophy in Nyon in ten days’ time, but first they will have to find their way out of a group containing Ukraine, Belgium and defending champions Italy.
The hosts will consider themselves lucky, though, to have avoided – at least until the semi-finals – the big guns of Group B: Germany, Poland, Spain and unbeaten Turkey.
Yet even without Arsenal’s Philippe Senderos and Hanover’s Tranquillo Barnetta, who have not been released by their clubs, the Swiss are confident of making progress.
“We began training at the start of June and we are really looking for a good performance,” said team manager Pierre-André Schürmann.
Schürmann has also been denied the services of Johan Volanthen, who became the youngest scorer in the history of the European football championships when he found the net against France.
But the Swiss still go into the tournament with at least ten of the side which won the under-17 European Championships in Denmark two years ago – the country’s first international football trophy.
And the team is not short of firepower: players expected to catch the eye include Arsenal’s Johann Djourou, FC Twente’s Guilherme Afonso and Servette’s Fabrizio Zambrella.
“We are hoping that a number of these players can come through and strengthen the A team for Euro 2008,” added Schürmann.
Switzerland and Austria are joint hosts for the next edition of the European football championships.
The Swiss Football Association says it is hoping the tournament will generate as much interest as the successful under-21 championships held in Switzerland two years ago.
Entry to the games will be free for fans under the age of 16, and ticket prices have been set at between SFr10 and SFr20.
swissinfo with agencies
Group A: Switzerland, Ukraine, Belgium, Italy.
Group B: Germany, Poland, Spain, Turkey.
Matches are being played in five towns: Aarau, Lausanne, Kriens, Sion, and Nyon.
The final will be played in Nyon – home of Uefa, European football’s governing body – on Saturday July 24.