Underdogs confident of finding form in Portugal
Switzerland’s national football team have arrived in Portugal ahead of the upcoming European Championships, anxious to put recent troubles behind them.
Manager Köbi Kuhn’s preparations have been dogged by injuries to the squad and a run of poor results.
The Swiss wrapped up their preparations for Euro 2004 with a disappointing 1-0 win over tiny Liechtenstein on Sunday in Zurich.
Management blamed the narrow margin of victory – the winning goal came in injury time – on Switzerland’s heavy schedule in the lead-up to the tournament.
Besides training sessions and warm-up matches, the players have also had to attend a stream of promotional events organised by the Swiss Football Association and sponsors.
The Swiss also lost 2-0 against Germany a few days ago, leaving Kuhn with plenty to think about before Sunday's opening match against Croatia.
The team’s lack of goals is a cause for concern – they have only managed four in their last five matches. But the manager insists there is no need to panic.
“My players may be a little tired after a busy build-up, but we have done the work that had to be done and I’m sure the team will be in much better shape in Portugal,” he said.
The 23 players who have been selected now have seven days ahead of them to acclimatise and prepare for tricky group games against Croatia, England and France.
“They have to isolate themselves now,” said Michel Pont, the assistant manager. “There has been a lot of tension within the group because of injuries and the late selection.”
Three players – Marco Streller, Leonard Thurre and Johann Lonfat – had to withdraw because of injuries, while Remo Meyer and Stéphane Grichting were left at home.
The manager has, however, called up two youngsters who have just taken part in the under-21 European Championships in Germany: Johann Vonlanthen and Tranquillo Barnetta.
Davide Chiumento, another youth player who was invited to join the squad, turned down the opportunity.
Chiumento, who plays for Juventus and also holds Italian citizenship, said he wanted to keep open the option of representing Italy at a later date. Joining the Swiss side would have meant ruling out any chance of playing for the “Azzurri”.
The late arrival of Vonlanthen and Barnetta has been welcomed by other squad members.
“Their playing qualities and our team spirit mean they should have no trouble fitting in,” said defender Patrick Müller.
Another concern is whether the players can put up with each other for nearly a month.
“We are not used to being together for so long,” said Johann Vogel. “I remember that we were very happy to get away from each other after being eliminated at the 1996 European Championships.”
But the midfielder says that the situation has changed since then. All the team members now play for major Swiss or European clubs and are used to spending time away from home.
swissinfo, Doris Lucini and Mathias Froidevaux
Goalkeepers: Fabrice Borer (Grasshoppers Zurich), Jörg Stiel (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Pascal Zuberbühler (Basel).
Defenders: Bruno Berner (SC Freiburg), Bernt Haas (West Bromwich Albion), Stéphane Henchoz (Liverpool), Ludovic Magnin (Werder Bremen), Patrick Müller (Lyon), Christoph Spycher (Grasshoppers Zurich), Murat Yakin (Basel), Marco Zwyssig (Basel).
Midfielders and strikers: Ricardo Cabanas (Grasshoppers Zurich), Fabio Celestini (Marseille), Stéphane Chapuisat (Young Boys Bern), Alex Frei (Rennes), Daniel Gygax (FC Zurich), Benjamin Huggel (Basel), Milaim Rama (Thun), Johann Vogel (PSV Eindhoven), Raphaël Wicky (SV Hamburg), Hakan Yakin (VfB Stuttgart).
Since qualifying for the European Championships in Portugal, the Swiss team have played five warm-up games.
They lost three against Morocco (2-1), Greece (1-0) and Germany (2-0), and won two against Slovenia (2-1) and Liechtenstein (1-0).
The 23 players selected by Köbi Kuhn left Switzerland on Monday to take up their quarters in Portugal.
It is only the second time in the history of the competition that the Swiss have made it through to the final stages.
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