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IN THE LAND OF CLOCKS THE SWISS HOPE THAT JUST A LITTLE TIME WILL HEAL ALEXANDER FREI'S WOUNDS. IN LATE FEBRUARY THE NATIONAL TEAM'S ALLTIME LEADING SCORER BROKE his arm during a game in the Swiss Super League. He was expected to be out for at least eight weeks. "It's something we have to live with," coach Ottmar (the General) Hitzfeld said. "We still have some alternatives up our sleeve."
Switzerland is unlikely to go beyond the first round without Frei, the FC Basel attacker who netted five goals during qualification. He has scored 40 times in 73 appearances for his country through April 4 and helped lead Switzerland to the second round of the 2006 World Cup.
After Frei the team's most talented player is 24-year-old midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta, who plays for Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. He is a creative, attacking midfielder with great vision and terrific crosses. Philippe Senderos, a strong defender and solid tackler despite his lack of speed, heads up the back. Other solid pros on the Swiss team include holding midfielder Gokhan Inler, forward Hakan Yakin and striker Blaise Nkufo.
Hitzfeld is no stranger to titles. He won the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund in 1997 and Bayern Munich in 2001. And the Swiss, having cohosted Euro 2008—and competed in eight previous World Cups—are experienced in playing on the big stage. "They are a very organized, very disciplined team," says U.S. assistant Mike Sorber, "and they have a good coach. They are a definite threat."
Scoring will be a serious issue if Frei's injury lingers. But even with a healthy Frei, Switzerland will struggle to put up big numbers. Nkufo needs to provide goals.
The strength of this unit is Barnetta, whose positioning and anticipation are excellent. Still, Switzerland lacks a dynamic playmaker who can dictate the pace of a game.
Senderos is strong in the air and is a very vocal leader. Keeper Diego Benaglio, a key player for '08-09 Bundesliga champs Wolfsburg, is young and smart and has international experience. Still, they must be having nightmares about Chile's and Spain's strikers.