Swiss face uphill struggle
Switzerland’s Euro 2004 campaign could be a short-lived affair, with tough matches against Croatia, England and holders France in the group phase of the finals.
The Swiss have never reached the last eight of the competition, and the odds are stacked against them doing so in Portugal.
Although Switzerland have taken part in every qualifying stage of the competition since 1964, they have only made it through to the finals once – in 1996 – when they collected just one point from three group matches before being eliminated.
And they are not fancied to improve on that performance this time around.
The bookmakers rate them 15th out of the 16 teams that have qualified for the finals. Only Latvia, a team with little or no international footballing pedigree, are seen as having less chance of lifting the title.
But while the Swiss are clearly the underdogs in their group, they have one clear advantage over their opponents: no one expects them to do well, unlike France or England who are among the pre-tournament favourites.
Switzerland’s opening match is against Croatia on June 13 in Leiria.
It will be the first time the two countries have met in international competition, and neither can afford to lose.
While a win would give either side an outside chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals, the losers might as well start thinking about packing their bags for the trip home.
They would probably need to beat both France and England to make it through to the last eight.
On paper at least, Croatia are favourites. They were quarter-finalists eight years ago in England and followed that up with third place at the 1998 World Cup in France.
But the country’s fortunes have taken something of a dip since the glory days of players such as Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki and Robert Jarni.
They could provide an upset though, and two of the players to watch will be Monaco’s Dada Prso, who helped steer his club to this season’s Champions League final, and fellow striker Ivan Klasnic, who plays for the recently crowned German league champions Werder Bremen.
Switzerland’s next game on June 17 in Coimbra will see them face the might of England.
The two teams last met in the opening match of Euro 96 – with the Swiss making their debut in the finals on Wembley’s hallowed turf.
Kubilay Türkyilmaz scored a penalty in the dying minutes of that game to level the scores at 1-1. The result gave the Swiss their only point in the tournament, while England made it as far as the semi-finals.
Now under the guidance of Sweden’s Sven Göran Eriksson, England are one of the favourites for Euro 2004.
With the weight of a nation’s expectations once again on their shoulders, Eriksson’s men also have to overcome recent off-the-field setbacks.
Defender Rio Ferdinand will be missing from the squad as he is serving an eight-month ban for failing to attend a routine drug test in September.
And in April, football idol David Beckham made national and international headlines after details emerged of an alleged extra-marital affair.
The midfielder’s ability to put the tabloid headlines behind him could determine his performance on the pitch.
Beckham, who scored five goals in the qualifying stages, will be a key player for England as will Liverpool’s Michael Owen.
He also scored five during England’s campaign to reach Portugal and will be looking to put a poor domestic season behind him.
England have a reputation for playing below their best in tournaments and have failed to lift a title since winning the World Cup on home soil in 1966.
Switzerland’s toughest test will come in their final group match against France on June 21 in Coimbra.
Their match against the army of foreign-based French stars could well be the last in the competition for Köbi Kuhn’s men.
The Swiss will be hard pushed to get a result against a country that can not only field some of the world’s best players such as Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, but can also call on the lively legs of veterans Marcel Desailly (35) and Bixente Lizarazu (34).
France, World Cup winners back in 1998 and the current European champions, are the bookies’ favourites to lift the title for the third time.
Switzerland had a recent taste of what they can expect when they face the French.
In August last year the two sides met in a friendly in Geneva, with the Swiss on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline – a result that did not reflect the total domination of “Les Bleus” on the field.
swissinfo, Raphael Donzel
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