2010 World Cup profile: Switzerland
Through April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Switzerland. Click here for the full archive.
The Swiss will only go as far as Alexander Frei's 30-year-old legs and leadership will allow. The 2005 Ligue 1 Golden Boot winner and Switzerland's all-time leading goal scorer is on the down slope of his career, but the captain will need to expertly corral the young talent around him. Frei's importance was evident during the 2008 European Championship, where the co-hosts finished last in their group after he sustained a knee injury in the opening match and missed the remainder of the tournament.
Now Frei is dealing with another setback after breaking his arm in a league game in late February. He is expected to miss at least another month, so his match fitness will bear watching upon his return.
Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld will call on the services of two Arsenal youngsters, Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou -- although the latter's form could be a concern as he is still recovering from September knee surgery. If healthy, the 23-year-old Djourou's versatility through the center of the pitch will be vital. The Spanish-Serbian Senderos, 25, played in all three of Switzerland's group matches during the '06 World Cup, but injured his shoulder in the third game and missed the round of 16 loss to Ukraine on penalties.
Tranquillo Barnetta, a veteran of the Swiss side that won the '02 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, will join Frei in the attack. The Bayer Leverkusen man netted a beautiful goal against Togo during Germany '06 and was nominated as the tournament's best young player. However, he missed a penalty against the Ukrainians and will relish the opportunity for another chance on the big stage.
What to watch for
After a shocking loss to Luxembourg in its second game of qualifying, Switzerland didn't fail again en route to reaching its second straight World Cup. The Swiss will look to build on the '06 performance in which they won Group G before falling to Ukraine in one of the dullest matches in Cup history. The Swiss boasted one of the tournament's best defenses -- they were the only side not to concede a goal in regulation --- but struggled to finish, a fact highlighted by the inability to score a single spot kick in their penalty loss.
The 2010 team boasts a bit more firepower, with Frei scoring five times during the final round of qualification. Veteran striker Blaise Nkufo matched Frei with five goals, but he was replaced in the latter stages by Eren Derdiyok. Barnetta will provide pace on the wing, but Hitzfeld needs to find another scorer if the team hopes to advance from a difficult group featuring prohibitive favorite Spain, the enigmatic Chile and dark horse Honduras. Don't expect a lot of goals from the Swiss, or a long run in South Africa.
Key match in group stage
June 21 vs. Chile. A loss against Spain in the first match is to be expected. Fail to earn at least a point vs. the South American side, however, and the Swiss will return to Basel earlier than they'd like.
Celebrity scouting report: Stan Wawrinka*
It was good for the system to qualify. It was not easy. It's a young team. ... They've shown they can beat a lot of teams, but they also lose against some teams they can beat [like Finland, Norway and Luxembourg]. But the most important thing was to qualify and they are in the World Cup. That was the first thing to do. Now they just need to be ready for what's next. ... Frei is a very, very good player. I hope he's going to be ready for the World Cup. When all of the team plays in the system together, it's really nice. ... They have a tough group, but they're all tough, so the most important thing is to be ready. Just be ready for all the teams and then you see what happens. ... It was tough to be eliminated [from Germany 2006] without conceding a goal, but that's soccer and it's never easy. They were playing very well, so I hope they can do the same in this one.