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Switzerland qualify for 2010 World Cup


The Swiss national football team has qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after drawing 0-0 with Israel in Basel.

Switzerland thus finished at the top of their group on 21 points, ahead of Greece on 20, and will play in their fourth consecutive major tournament.

The maths on Wednesday night was easy and the sell-out crowd in St Jakob's Park stadium knew it: Switzerland were going into the match with a three point advantage over nearest rivals Greece, who kicked off against Luxembourg in Athens at the same time.

Assuming the Greeks would win – in the end they did 2-1 – the Swiss knew a draw would be enough to guarantee them a place among 31 other teams in South Africa in June and July.

But Switzerland, currently 15th in Fifa's world rankings, were lacking three main players – goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, striker and captain Alex Frei and midfielder Benjamin Huggel all picked up a bug in Luxembourg at the weekend – and Ottmar Hitzfeld's men started the match nervily.

The former Bayern Munich trainer gave Benaglio every chance to recover and maintain a 100 per cent appearance record in the ten-match qualifying campaign, but it wasn't to be.

Marco Wölfli wore the gloves for Switzerland and his first action was almost pulling the ball out of his net, when Baram Kayal's shot crept just wide of the far post in the 11th minute.

Israel, 22nd in the Fifa rankings, were playing to win, knowing that if – admittedly a big if – the Greeks lost to Luxembourg, three points in Basel would be enough for a back-door qualification via play-offs.

Switzerland's best chance of the unconvincing first half came a few minutes later, when Barnetta's mid-range freekick missed the upright by centimetres.

Top draw

The first half ended 0-0 – enough for South Africa. But Swiss players and fans were aware they were just one Israeli goal away from the play-offs.

The Swiss began the second half with more purpose and were rewarded for the increased pressure when Israel lost a man in the 58th minute for a second yellow card.

Down to ten men, Israel struggled to impose themselves on the match and the Swiss had their tails up.

In the 63rd minute Derdiyok missed the chance of the match for Switzerland. Unmarked on the penalty spot, he completely scuffed his header from a cross.

Unless Switzerland can improve their finishing, they can give up any hopes of a deep run at the World Cup.

The hosts remained the less bad team until the final whistle – although the odd Israeli break kept the tension high – but it was mission accomplished: they were on their way to South Africa.

This achievement was by no means a given after an appalling start to the campaign, which involved a draw in Israel and a pitiful defeat by Luxembourg.

Switzerland's final balance is six wins, three draws and one loss.

Pitch invasion?

Off the pitch, Basel police had stepped up search controls on the expected 400 Israeli fans, hoping to avoid a repeat of when Israel played in Basel in 2005 and placard-waving political activists ran onto the pitch, resulting in Fifa giving the Swiss Football Association a SFr50,000 ($49,200) fine.

The concerns were that Switzerland was "on parole" in Fifa's eyes and a similar performance could end in disqualification from South Africa.

As it turned out, the fans stayed off the pitch – it's just a shame they couldn't celebrate an admirable overall achievement with a more convincing result on the night.

Thomas Stephens,

Key facts

Switzerland: Wölfli - Lichtsteiner, Grichting, Senderos, Spycher (capt) - Padalino, Inler, Fernandes, Barnetta - Nkufo, Derdiyok (Frei 71). Trainer: Ottmar Hitzfeld

Israel: Aouate - Saban, Ben-Haïm, Strul, Ziv - Kayal, Cohen, Yadin, Benayoun (capt) - Colautti (Shechter 69), Barda (Vermuth 85). Trainer: Dror Kashtan

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In brief

Switzerland's results:
06/09/08 drew with Israel 2-2 (away)
10/09/08 lost to Luxembourg 2-1 (home)
11/10/08 beat Latvia 2-1 (home)
15/10/08 beat Greece 2-1 (away)
28/03/09 beat Moldova 2-0 (away)
01/04/09 beat Moldova 2-0 (home)
05/09/09 beat Greece 2-0 (home)
09/09/09 drew with Latvia 2-2 (away)
10/10/09 beat Luxembourg 3-0 (away)
14/10/09 drew with Greece 0-0 (home)

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Who qualifies?

32 teams will play in the 2010 World Cup, sorted by geographical proportional representation: 13 from Europe, six from Africa, 4.5 from Asia, 4.5 from South America, 3.5 from North, Central America and Caribbean and 0.5 from Oceania. (The half teams have to face each other in play-offs.)

The 13 places allotted to Europe have been fought over by 53 teams – divided into nine groups – for more than a year.

The nine group winners qualify automatically and the remaining four places will go to the winners of play-offs – featuring the eight best runners-up – played over two legs on November 14 and 18. The draw for these matches will be held on October 19.

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Swiss World Cup history

1934 (Italy/quarterfinal/trainer Heinrich Müller)
1938 (France/ quarterfinal /Karl Rappan)
1950 (Brazil/first round/Franco Andreoli)
1954 (Switzerland/ quarterfinal /Rappan)
1962 (Chile/ first round /Rappan)
1966 (England/ first round /Alfredo Foni)
1994 (United States/last 16/Roy Hodgson)
2006 (Germany/last 16/Köbi Kuhn)
2010 (South Africa/ ? /Ottmar Hitzfeld)

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