Switzerland built on a well-drilled defence
The Swiss are about to embark on their 12th World Cup
Die Nati outperformed European champions Italy in qualifying, relegating them to the play-offs
Team’s best World Cup performances to date have been a hat-trick of quarter-final appearances; in 1934, 1938 and finally 1954, as hosts
There is a feeling of familiarity surrounding Switzerland's FIFA World Cup team in Qatar. No wonder, either. In Group E from previous year, Die Nati were likewise paired with Serbia and Brazil. However, after drawing with the South Americans and defeating Serbia to get to the last 16, Sweden eliminated them.
Because they are not hesitant to compete against the apparent favorites and shock the form book, the Swiss have always commanded respect. In reality, Italy, the defending European champion, was prevented from taking first place by their superior defense during the qualifications in Group C.
One striking statistic highlights how the Swiss back line has historically served as the team's skeleton. They were the first team to be eliminated from a World Cup without giving up a goal back in 2006 when they lost to Ukraine on penalties in the round of 16 following a goalless draw. a record that is still in effect.
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Switzerland's Group G games
Switzerland-Cameroon (13:00 local time, Al Janoub Stadium)
Brazil-Switzerland (19:00 local time, Stadium 974)
Serbia-Switzerland (22:00 local time, Stadium 974)
Murat Yakin’s approach and tactics
Despite still being under contract, coach Vladimir Petkovic left enormous shoes to fill when he left the Swiss hot seat in 2021. Fortunately, Murat Yakin, who took his position, turned out to be a wise decision. Switzerland had a spectacular World Cup qualifying campaign under Yakin, going undefeated the entire time and knocking European champions Italy into the play-off round. His side is also known for having a strong, tight defense, as evidenced by the small number of goals allowed. His team scored 15 goals while allowing only two goals in the eight World Cup qualifying games.
Yann Sommer summed up Yakin’s philosophy to FIFA+ as follows: "He puts a lot of emphasis on face-to-face conversations and a good team spirit. He also looks at the defence from a centre-half's point of view, which I think is valuable." Even back in his playing days, Yakin was known to take on board the need to let a team express itself.
Key player: Granit Xhaka
Granit Xhaka, the team's seasoned captain with 106 appearances and 12 goals, enjoys a freewheeling position. So it comes as no surprise that the 30-year-old midfielder is the focal point of the Swiss national squad. His reputation for never backing down from a challenge, his ability to lead by example, and his aggression solidify his position as an essential element. But Xhaka also adds a shrewd sense of play to the field. He is more than capable of launching attacks and busting through opposing defenses with sharp through balls and deft passes because he always has the larger picture in mind.
Over and above his deft skill however, he works tirelessly for the team in every match and strives to improve and give his best on the field. In short, he is a born leader: "It started as a hobby. The fact that I’m now captaining the team for the first time at a World Cup is something very important for me. It makes me extremely proud and happy – especially recognition from other players. It's a lot of work, but I'm really looking forward to it. I hope that we can support each other as a team at all times - even when things get tight," said Xhaka, in a conversation with FIFA+.
One to watch: Noah Okafor
Noah Okafor is expected to perform admirably for the Swiss during their World Cup campaign. The 22-year-old attacker has played himself into peak World Cup form so far this season for RB Salzburg. Now, it is hoped that he would exhibit similar abilities for Die Nati in Qatar on the international scene. He graduated from FC Basel's youth academy, just like captain Xhaka, and played professionally there before relocating to Salzburg.
Along with making a name for himself as a talented football player, he also stands out for having a remarkable winning attitude. Okafor poses a threat on the wings and has crazy dribbling abilities, making him a challenge for even the most solid defense. He is renowned for his deft use of space and an aggressive pressing style that tests defenses. Okafor has scored twice in his eight senior-level outings to date, and he should have the opportunity to increase those totals in Qatar.
Switzerland's World Cup record
Having cemented their presence at the World Cup in recent years, the Qatar edition marks a fifth consecutive appearance for Die Nati: their best qualifying streak ever, coming on the back of years of consistent performances. In fact, they have lost just one of their last 38 World Cup qualifiers, their only defeat coming in a 2-0 loss to Portugal on 10 October 2017. Even so, these solid performances have only elicited last-16 places at best in recent competitions (2006, 2014 and 2018), while in South Africa in 2010, they bowed out as early as the group stage. We have to go back further to find greater success, namely 1934, 1938 and 1954, when the Swiss team reached the quarter-finals on each occasion.
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