Swiss dreaming of last eight
Watch out for the not-so-little Alpine nation in the upcoming Euro 2008.ZURICH - Of Euro 2008's two underdog hosts, the Swiss are expected to pack a meaner bite than Austria.
Having reached the knockout stages of the last World Cup in Germany, the unlikely Alpine nation will be hoping things go their way in only their third appearance at Europe's big party.
Long-time coach Jakob 'Kobi' Kuhn will be retiring after the finals and is keen to go out on a high, though Switzerland's friendly results over the past two years have been nothing to crow about.
They have lost nine of 17 contests since the World Cup in 2006, including a 4-0 hammering by Germany on home soil at the end of March.
Even with the deck stacked against them, the feeling in Switzerland remains one of cautious optimism. After drawing France and beating Togo to reach the round of 16 at Germany 2006, coach Kuhn was prompted to say: "We aren't just little Switzerland anymore!"
His enthusiasm was premature, though, as his side became the first ever to fail to score once from the spot in a shootout - after a desultory 0-0 draw with Ukraine.
The veteran boss does have some big names to call on, and all of them will need to be in top form if the automatically qualified co- hosts are to avoid the ignominy of a first-round exit.
The return of goal king Alexander Frei from injury will be crucial to the team's hopes. After being out of action for nearly a year, the Borussia Dortmund striker is currently regaining fitness and is three goals away from breaking the all-time Swiss scoring record (34).
He will be the undisputed threat going forward in what will be Switzerland's second straight European finals (they went out in the group stages of Portugal 2004).
Frei will be helped in attack by Basle's Marco Streller, Congo-born Blaise N'Kufo of Dutch side FC Twente, and the teenage pair of big Eren Derdiyok and quick Johan Vonlanthen, who can also line up wide in midfield.
Despite a few forward-thinking options, the Swiss are known primarily as a well-organised defensive outfit, which is amply illustrated by their not having allowed a single goal from the run of play in four matches at the 2006 World Cup.
The key figure at the back will be Lyon veteran Patrick Mueller, who tore ligaments in his knee in December but looks likely to be fit for the finals.
Alongside him in the centre should be Arsenal's Philippe Senderos, a powerful presence in the air, a strong tackler and still only 23 years old. His Gunners compatriot Johan Djourou will provide cover, as will Mario Eggimann of Karlsruhe.
Dortmund full-back Philipp Degen is also an injury question mark, while Ludovic Magnin or Christoph Spycher are able deputies.
Diego Benaglio of VfL Wolfsburg has stepped in as number one between the posts ahead of the aging Pascal Zuberbuehler and Santander's Fabio Coltorti.
The crowded centre of the pitch - Kuhn usually opts for a five-man midfield - will be led by Tranquillo Barnetta from wide and Hakan Yakin in an advanced position. Daniel Gygax and Gelson Fernandez of Manchester City also figure to play a part, though David Degan - Philipp's twin - will miss out on the finals through a groin injury.
Knowing that getting out of a Group A containing Turkey, Portugal and the Czechs will be no easy task, Kuhn is not getting ahead of himself about his side's chances.
"Our goal can't be anything less than making it to the quarter- finals, that is obvious," the 64-year-old said recently. "But setting goals is one thing, achieving your goals is another entirely."
text by dpa / Expatica
photos by Reto Stauffer and Flickr contributos kecko and currybet
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