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Switzerland looks ahead to 2010 World Cup

Former French international Christian Karembeu holds up the name of defending champions Italy

(Keystone)

Switzerland will not face any football giants in their bid to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The Swiss Football Association discovered that the national squad would be in a group alongside Greece, Israel, Latvia, Moldova and Luxembourg, following Sunday's draw for the preliminary competition.

A total of 170 countries were entered into the draw which was held in the South African city of Durban.

Switzerland will be one of the teams chasing 31 places at the World Cup finals. Currently ranked 26th in Europe and 44th in the world, Switzerland must come top of its group to ensure a place in South Africa.

If it ends the preliminary round as one of the best eight runners-up, it can still qualify by winning a play off round.

Greece is the group's top-ranked team at ninth in Europe, followed by Israel at 18th.

Switzerland played Israel twice in the preliminary round ahead of the 2006 World Cup. Both matches ended in a draw.

Ralph Zloczower, president of the Swiss Football Association, said from the ceremony in Durban: "We've been placed in a very even group. Anything is possible from first to fourth place."

Swiss coach Köbi Kuhn said Switzerland would have to show a lot of respect for their opponents such as Israel. "Israel are rated highly, which became clear after their recent victory over Russia."

A total of 861 qualifying matches will be played to determine the lineup for the 2010 World Cup finals.

Disappointing year

Switzerland have failed to impress this year in friendly matches played in preparation for the European championships, Euro 2008, which they will co-host with Austria next June.

Out of ten matches, the Swiss squad only managed four wins against five losses and one draw. Among the highlights was a victory over football heavyweights Holland (ranked seventh in Europe) and a draw against South American powerhouse Argentina.

The team struggled to find its rhythm and lost against Japan and the United States. It also lost its final match of the year against Nigeria, 0-1.

Brazilians everywhere

Before Sunday's draw, Fifa president, Switzerland's Sepp Blatter, caused a stir by warning that future World Cup finals could be overrun by teams full of Brazilians.

"If we don't take care about the invaders from Brazil, then we could have problems at the 2014 and 2018 World Cup finals," Blatter said. "If we don't stop the fast naturalisation of players in some countries, this will be a real danger."

He was speaking in response to a trend of countries naturalising Brazilian footballers and incorporating them into the national teams. Many nations have imported Brazilians with the purpose of strengthening national teams for events like the World Cup or continental competition qualifiers.

There are no rules stopping countries handing passports to imports and allowing them to play in such events.

Blatter also announced that more than 120 former players would be presented with a World Cup winning medal after missing out on playing in the final.

He said this would affect players who were part of a winning squad but did not play in the decisive match for reasons such as injury between 1930 and 1974.

This includes Brazilian legend, Pelé, who missed the 1962 final against Czechoslovakia because he was injured. He will officially become the only player to hold three World Cup winning medals. He also played on Brazil's winning sides of 1958 and 1970.

swissinfo with agencies

Road to South Africa

The 32 World Cup finals slots are divided into 13 for Europe, six for Africa (including the host nation), four each for Asia and South America and three for Concacaf (central and north America and the Caribbean).

The winners of the Oceania group play off against the fifth-placed Asian side for a further spot while the fifth-placed finishers in South America play off for a berth against the fourth-placed team from the Concacaf zone.

Europe's 53 entrants will be divided into nine groups. The winners all qualify for the World Cup and the best eight runners-up play off for four more qualifying berths

The 10 South American countries began their super group in October.

The 2010 qualifying competition will last more than 800 days and finish in November 2009.

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Swiss World Cup performances

If Switzerland qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals, it will be their ninth appearance at the championship.

In 1934, 1938 and 1954, they reached the quarterfinal stage. In 1994, they were knocked out in the round of 16 by Spain and by Ukraine, 3-0 on penalties, in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Switzerland made football history in the Ukraine match by becoming the first team not to score once in a World Cup penalty shootout. But the squad also left Germany not having allowed a single goal against during regular time in the tournament.

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