Switzerland know they are carrying the pride of a nation on their shoulders as they prepare for their opening World Cup game against France in Stuttgart on Tuesday.This content was published on June 12, 2006 - 21:31
Coach Köbi Kuhn knows what a huge moment this match is for his young team, having represented Switzerland himself in the 1966 World Cup in England.
"My players know that moments like this are the reason that they work so hard. I always tell them that the support of the fans and the atmosphere in the stadium in such big games is the real reward for all their efforts," he said.
Switzerland have a good recent record against 1998 World Cup winners France, drawing twice in the tournament's qualifying stages last year and beating them twice in the last seven matches.
But Kuhn is still wary of the threat posed by French striker Thierry Henry, who could not play the last two times the sides met. Those two matches in March (Paris) and October (Bern) last year ended in 0-0 and 1-1 draws.
"Why can't we win against a big team like France? We know the French and they know us, but the one difference now is that Henry will be playing," he said.
The last time Switzerland played in the World Cup finals was 1994 and none of the current crop of players has graced the tournament.
But midfield player Ricardo Cabanas said the team has vowed not be overawed by the occasion.
"All the players will be playing in their first World Cup which makes it a very special moment for everyone," he told swissinfo.
"But we have to keep a level head and put this game into perspective by preparing for this game like we do for every normal match."
The Gottlieb-Daimler stadium in Stuttgart is steeped in history for the Swiss. They were the first team to play Germany after the Second World War and also after German reunification.
In addition it is the home stadium for Swiss defender Ludovic Magnin, who has played a season for local team VfB Stuttgart. The former Lugano player was happy to check into the same hotel his club side uses for home games.
"I also have the same room I usually have when I play for Stuttgart. Small things like that are very important to me during such a special moment. I have the impression that I am at home," he told swissinfo.
"Travelling to Stuttgart has made us all realise that we are in the World Cup and that is an extraordinary feeling. We have to do everything we can to make Switzerland proud of us."
Switzerland play France, Togo and South Korea in their group, with the top two teams qualifying for the first knockout stage of the tournament.
swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Stuttgart
Formerly known as the Neckar Stadium, the arena was built in 1933 to a design by architect Paul Bonatz.
It was modernised and renamed as the Gottlieb Daimler Stadium in 1993, in time for the World Athletics Championships that year. After further modernisation it now holds 47,757 fans.
The stadium was the venue of Germany's first international match after the Second World War, against Switzerland on November 22, 1950.
Switzerland were also the opponents on December 19, 1990 as a reunified German side played their first international game since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Switzerland's first match of the 2006 World Cup finals against France kicks off at 6pm local time.
Switzerland qualified for the World Cup finals in November last year after securing second place in their group and beating Turkey in controversial two-legged play-off tie.
This is Switzerland's eighth appearance in the World Cup finals. They reached the quarter-final stage in 1934, 1938 and 1954 – the year Switzerland hosted the competition.
The 32 countries that made the finals in Germany are split into eight groups of four. The top two teams of each group will qualify for the first knock-out stage, called the Round of 16 (starting on June 24). Togo and South Korea are also in Switzerland's group.
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