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Winning start for Kuhn

Kuhn congratulates his players after the final whistle

(Keystone)

Köbi Kuhn has got off to a winning start as Switzerland's new football coach, leading the national side to a 2-1 away win in Wednesday's friendly match against Austria.

Goals from Johann Vogel and Hakan Yakin ensured a well-deserved victory for the Swiss - the country's first win over their Austrian neighbours for almost exactly 11 years. And while there were no points on offer, Kuhn found plenty to praise in a performance coming just over two weeks ahead of Switzerland's vital World Cup qualifier against Yugoslavia.

Wonderful

"It was a wonderful night," Kuhn told swissinfo shortly after the final whistle. "But I always expected a performance like this from my team, so I'm not really that surprised."

"The passing was good and the goals were beautiful," Kuhn added. "So it was an absolute pleasure to watch and to oversee."

For the first 25 minutes in Vienna's Ernst-Kappel stadium, there was very little for anybody to see. Staged as part of the launch for the two countries' joint bid to host the 2008 European Championships, the meeting had threatened to turn into a farce when a power failure plunged the ground into near darkness.

Just as the crowd began to jeer, though, the floodlights came back on and the game was able to begin, albeit almost half an hour late.

Impressive performance

Once the electricians had earned their wage bills, it was the turn of Switzerland's footballers to shine. With an impressive first half performance, Kuhn's men controlled the midfield, exploited the Austrian flanks and took a deserved tenth minute lead with a wonder goal from Vogel.

Shortly after Alex Frei had rattled the Austrian bar with a long-range shot which was subsequently ruled offside, Vogel went one better - picking up on a pass played back from Murat Yakin before smashing the ball from well outside the area past a stranded Franz Wohlfahrt in the Austrian goal.

Despite having earlier billed the match as an opportunity to see all his players in action ahead of the game with Yugoslavia, Kuhn was understandably reluctant to make too many changes once half time came around. While Austria coach Otto Baric took the chance to bring on four new players, Kuhn introduced only two - Sunderland defender Bernt Haas and Bayern Munich midfielder Ciriaco Sforza.

Mistake

At first Kuhn's caution paid off with Switzerland continuing to dominate and Austria still struggling to find their rhythm. But then, exactly on the hour mark, a rare mistake from Swiss goalkeeper Marco Pascolo allowed the Austrians back in the game.

The FC Zurich goalie seemed to have all the time he needed to deal with a speculative long-range strike from Herzog, but somehow allowed the ball to squirm beneath his body and into the net.

To Switzerland's credit the spell that followed that lapse was their best of the night. Substitute Austrian keeper Alex Manninger had to make two good saves within six minutes, first palming away a clever chip from Sforza, then somehow smothering a point blank strike from Alex Frei.

Switzerland's renewed vigour was to find its reward though. With just 16 minutes remaining Sforza curled in a perfect high ball for Hakan Yakin to head in past Manninger from off the Austrian post.

The home team still had their chances to get back on level terms. Clearly the best Austrian on the pitch, Herzog threaded a pass through to Roman Wallner in the 82nd minute but the Rapid Vienna player fired narrowly wide. With just a minute left of play, Herzog himself dug out a half chance, but was only able to crash his shot into the side netting.

Confidence boost

Seconds later the Swiss team and their new coach were able to celebrate a win which should give a massive boost in confidence ahead of September's World Cup qualifiers. Not that Kuhn was letting Wednesday's success go to his head when asked about that first challenge against Yugoslavia.

"It's going to be a difficult match, that's for sure," the Swiss coach told swissinfo, "but nothing has changed - we still have to beat Yugoslavia, Luxembourg and Russia if we are going to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. What I have learned tonight though is that my squad has much more strength in depth than I had expected."

Yugoslavia had their own reason to celebrate on Wednesday after securing an unexpectedly narrow 2-0 home win against the Faroe Islands, a result which lifts the Balkan side into third place in Group One, one place above the Swiss.

With only the top two teams in the group having any chance of going on to the finals in Japan and South Korea, Kuhn knows he still has a mammoth task ahead of him.

by Mark Ledsom, Vienna

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