Whitney Houston and Cologne cathedral spur Swiss team to victory

Swiss fans celebrate Monday's win over Belarus Keystone

Switzerland ice hockey coach Ralph Krueger was full of praise for his entire team after Monday's crucial world championship win over Belarus. But the trainer also paid tribute to two less obvious contributors - Whitney Houston and Cologne cathedral.

This content was published on April 30, 2001 minutes

"We took a walk into the centre of Cologne before the match," a smiling Krueger told swissinfo, "and we looked at that cathedral and thought about all the hard work and patience it had taken to build it. We're just trying to do a little job here, but in the same way - stone by stone."

Whitney's contribution came in the form of a song with a similar sentiment, "Step by Step", which Krueger played to the team three minutes before they stepped onto the ice.

"It was just a little thing to give the guys some good energy, but in the end they did it themselves," the coach pointed out. "With their energy and their game plan, it was super."

With Monday's winners destined for the second round, and the losers doomed to the relegation playouts, Switzerland knew they had to bounce back in style from Saturday's opening defeat by Germany.

After making a terrific start thanks to a Julien Vauclair goal in the second minute of the match, the Swiss had to endure some nervous moments after Belarus fought back with an equaliser in the very next minute.

The opening period was to end with Switzerland comfortably in the driving seat, though, with goals from Edgar Salis and Patric Della Rossa giving Krueger's men a 3-1 lead.

A long-range strike from Flavien Conne and a goal-line poke-in from Martin Plüss either side of a second Belarus goal saw Switzerland stretch their advantage to 5-2 in the second period. The final 20 minutes failed to produce any more goals, allowing Switzerland book their place in the next round with relative ease.

"It was such a team game," Krueger enthused afterwards. "Everyone did what they needed to do. The four blocks of players we have now are definitely our strongest yet, and we've got great goaltending too, so everything is still possible."

With Belarus dropping out of contention, the two points gained by Switzerland on Monday will not be carried through to the second round, making Tuesday's match against reigning world champions the Czech Republic all the more important.

But after contesting two matches against supposed underdogs, Krueger insisted that his team would not be making any radical changes when it becomes their turn to play David to the Czech Goliath.

"We play the same game that we want to play all the time so now it's important that we can play that way with confidence. The pressure's off now. For Switzerland to be sure of a place in the top 12 is a nice step. But now we want to get into the top eight again and we're going to stick to our game."

by Mark Ledsom, Cologne

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