Swiss return to footballing elite

Can Switzerland's success continue? Keystone

Switzerland’s footballers are looking to make their mark in Europe, after qualifying on Saturday for the prestigious European Championships.

This content was published on October 12, 2003 - 00:09

Swiss defender Stéphane Henchoz says the team have enough quality to at least reach the quarter-finals in Portugal.

“We showed great team spirit and worked very hard,” Henchoz told swissinfo following Saturday’s crucial 2-0 home win over Ireland. “We proved that there is plenty of quality in our team.”

One of the few active players remaining from Switzerland’s Euro 96 squad, Henchoz believes the current side has more than enough strength to improve on the first round exit made by the Swiss seven years ago.

“It’s difficult to compare the two squads because it was a long time ago, and I was very young at the time, but I’m sure we can do better than we did in 1996. We’ve certainly got a young squad now with two or three players having been with the under-21s last year. I think we can aim for a place in the quarter-finals.”

Cameo appearance

The competition for places, in the defence particularly, means the Henchoz himself will be fighting for a slot in the Swiss starting line-out. On Saturday, the Liverpool star was edged out by Lyon defender Patrick Müller and had to settle for a cameo appearance in the dying minutes of the match.

“I was on the bench today, but it’s good for the team and for the manager to have that sort of competition,” Henchoz insisted. “A lot can happen in eight months with injuries or loss of form so everyone in the squad has to be ready to do their bit. But the competition for places shows the quality of the team.”

After steering Switzerland to only their second ever qualification for the European Championship finals, Swiss coach Köbi Kuhn also had praise for his players. But he warned that he too would be expecting even more in the months ahead.

“I’m happy about the result of course,” Kuhn said. “How could I not be? But although I thought we played very well in the first half hour, we seemed to drop off a bit in the last quarter of an hour.

“When I look at the whole qualifying campaign, things haven’t always gone the way I wanted, but that’s because I’m always looking to get the very best out of this side. Overall though I have to thank the players for the way they’ve turned what I wanted into reality.”

No targets

Unlike Henchoz, Kuhn would not be drawn on any concrete targets for the European finals.

“Until now, I really haven’t thought beyond today,” the coach insisted. “I do have some general ideas of course for Swiss football and I think it will be important to prepare for the future – not just this summer, but also the World Cup qualifiers in 2006, and the 2008 European Championships here in Switzerland.

“I have concepts and strategies for the future, and we do have a young team, but we should remember that some of the older players were able to show their worth during the match, and prove that age doesn’t have to be a negative omen.”

The final point is one which Kuhn himself ably demonstrated on Saturday – clinching qualification on the day before his 60th birthday.

“This was definitely the present I was hoping for,” Kuhn joked at the post-match press conference. “And having 30,000 people singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me afterwards – well, there’s not many people who get to experience that. I’m very, very happy.”

Kuhn’s next present is likely to be a renewal of his contract with the Swiss football association, taking him through to the Portugal finals and probably into the next World Cup qualifying campaign.

And with Switzerland already guaranteed a place at the 2008 European Championships because of their status as co-hosts, the footballing celebrations look set to run and run.

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Basel


Switzerland qualified for next year's European Championship finals with a 2-0 win over Ireland.
Basel midfielder Hakan Yakin opened the scoring in the 6th minute.
Alex Frei then doubled Switzerland's lead on the hour.
Saturday's win marks only the second time that Switzerland has qualified for the European Championships.
Russia came second in Group 10 and will have to qualify via the play-offs.

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