Swiss pray for fresh start against England
Will England striker Wayne Rooney’s personal issues prevent him from running riot against the Swiss defence? Can Switzerland do a “Spain II” and sneak a surprise win?
Armchair football pundits have had plenty of questions to keep them busy ahead of the big 2012 European Championship qualifier between England and Switzerland on Tuesday night.
On Monday England coach Fabio Capello said Rooney was match-fit and would play against Switzerland despite being engulfed in a sex scandal at home. Two Sunday tabloids alleged this weekend that the Manchester United player had cheated repeatedly on his then-pregnant wife last year with a prostitute.
But Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld on Monday launched some late psychological warfare against the English by declaring that the allegations about Rooney’s private life would affect the England forward before the game.
“I’m no psychologist but, of course, such a thing like that will weigh on a player," Hitzfeld told reporters at the Feusisberg training camp in Switzerland.
Rooney flew to Basel with the England squad on Monday morning, amid speculation he could miss the match at St Jakob Stadium in order to be with his family.
Rooney has not scored in international play for a year but showed good form last Friday, helping create all of England's goals in an emphatic 4-0 victory over Bulgaria to open their Euro 2012 qualifying account.
Jean-Jacques Tillmann, a former Swiss TV sports reporter and big fan of English football, felt Rooney’s presence was decisive.
“It’s really important that he plays,” he told swissinfo.ch. “He is an extraordinary player capable of transforming a match.”
After a back injury ruled out Peter Crouch, Capello will be relying on Jermain Defoe, who has recovered from a kick to his ankle, and Darren Bent and Carlton Cole in attack.
Hitzfeld, meanwhile, has plenty of his own on-field issues right now, especially finding the back of the net.
The Swiss team has struggled to score and failed to win at home in six games, including a 0-0 draw with Australia in a friendly last Friday. No Switzerland striker has scored in 11 games, since September 9, 2009, when Alex Frei and Eren Derdiyok netted during a 2-2 draw in a World Cup qualifier in Latvia.
But focusing too much on the attackers is not the answer, said the coach, hinting at a cautious approach.
"Total attacking to end the goal drought wouldn't be the right thing," Hitzfeld said. “This is not the day to be worrying about our scoring record. We want to win the game but England are the clear favourites.”
“We must try and find a balance between our performance against Spain, where we defended very well, and going forward.”
Switzerland caused a major upset during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when midfielder Gelson Fernandes scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Spain, the eventual champion.
But Tillmann felt now was the time to find that killer instinct and take risks.
“Switzerland generally attack a bit against superior teams, while they have difficulties against weaker ones,” he commented, adding that England’s central defenders were “not very strong” at the moment.
Switzerland has a one-in-four chance of sneaking the game, he added.
Hitzfeld is likely to stick to his usual 4-4-1-1 formation in their opening Euro 2012 qualifier on Tuesday. Frei will lead the team and the attack alongside Derdiyok.
Frei has scored 40 goals in 78 games, but he failed to hit the target during the World Cup, when he had ankle problems, and missed a penalty during the Australia friendly, for which he was whistled at by the crowd in St Gallen.
Although the forward line is fairly clear, the ideal midfield mix remains a mystery. The coach tried out several solutions against Australia, but none were convincing. Tranquillo Barnetta is still ill with flu, so Gökhan Inler is expected to keep his place alongside Pirmin Schwegler in the centre, with question marks over which two from Xherdan Shaqiri, David Degen and Xavier Margairaz will make the cut.
World Cup sensation Fernandes is likely to start on the bench due to lack of match fitness since joining Chievo Verona.
The defence, Switzerland’s strong point, remains relatively clear, with Stephan Lichtsteiner, Steve von Bergen, Stéphane Grichting and Reto Ziegler all expected to be called up.
One last unknown remains the Swiss goalkeeper. Diego Benaglio trained with the squad on Saturday and Sunday, and says he is psychologically prepared.
However, last week the Wolfsburg keeper announced he would forego his No1 shirt for this match to be by his wife’s bedside if their expected newborn child arrives early. It is due on Wednesday.
Simon Bradley, swissinfo.ch
Recent match background
Switzerland's record in 20 previous outings against England reads W3 D4 L13 (W3 D1 L7 at home).
The teams' most recent encounter came in a friendly at Wembley on 6 February 2008, in what was Capello's first match at the England helm. Shaun Wright-Phillips scored the winner after Switzerland's Eren Derdiyok had cancelled out Jermaine Jenas's first-half opener.
Switzerland and England have twice met in the finals of a Uefa European Championship. The last of those games was a Group B fixture at Uefa Euro 2004, when England triumphed 3-0 in Coimbra thanks to a double from Wayne Rooney and a late Steven Gerrard strike. Switzerland's Bernt Haas was sent off with an hour gone.
Eight years earlier at Euro '96, Kubilay Türkyilmaz's 83rd-minute penalty earned Switzerland a 1-1 draw in the opening match of the tournament after Alan Shearer had given hosts England the lead.
Tuesday night’s match will be an interesting re-match for Frei and England midfielder Steven Gerrard. This will be the first time they have been together on the same field since Frei was caught on camera spitting at Gerrard during England's 3-0 win in Coimbra, Portugal during a Euro 2004 group match. Frei was later suspended for three matches by Uefa, which used video evidence after it was not spotted by the match referee.End of insertion
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