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Swiss size up the competition before kick off

Switzerland has shown recently that it can be as good as superpowers such as France Keystone

All eyes are on Germany for the opening match of the World Cup when the hosts square off against Costa Rica on Friday.

This content was published on June 9, 2006 - 08:28

But for the Swiss team, the first challenge comes on Tuesday against France, a formidable opponent they have encountered regularly over the past few years.

By the end of the tournament on July 9, a total of 63 matches will have been played. The Swiss will play three in their attempt to qualify from their group during their eighth World Cup outing.

But coach Köbi Kühn's team is facing a largely unknown task. Their first opponents, France, in Stuttgart on June 13 may need no introduction, having played Les Bleus in the qualifiers, but no Swiss side has ever taken on Togo or South Korea.

The Africans are one of the surprise packages of this year's tournament having never qualified for the final stages of the World Cup before.

The side's biggest threat is star striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who boosted his growing reputation with a move to English side Arsenal in January.

"Adebayor has proved himself to be a top striker in Europe so we need to be especially careful about him and play our best football to beat Togo," Swiss defender Ludovic Magnin told swissinfo.

"In the African Cup it was a bad Togo team, but they are better now so we must not underestimate them."

Inside track

Togo may be one of the World Cup's underdogs, but Switzerland will be mindful of Cameroon beating Argentina in 1990 and Senegal's triumph against France in the last edition of the tournament.

Coach Otto Pfister graced the field with Swiss sides Chiasso and Grenchen during his playing days in the early 1960s. And current players, Yao Junior Senaya of YF Juventus Zurich and Yao Aziawonou of Young Boys of Bern, also give the "Hawks" an inside track on their opponents.

"I am pleased that we are not playing our first game against Togo," Swiss captain Johann Vogel told swissinfo. "This gives us a chance to analyse how they play by watching their game against Korea."

Formidable opponent

Switzerland's third opponents, South Korea, are another unknown quantity and present a more serious challenge to their hopes of qualifying to the knockout stages.

The Asian side are appearing in their seventh World Cup finals (their sixth in a row) and caused a major upset by beating Italy, Spain and Portugal en route to the semi-final stage in 2002.

But it should be noted that the Koreans were playing on home soil as co-hosts, and their form during qualification was hardly inspiring, losing two and drawing three of their 12 matches.

"Korea showed what they are capable of by reaching the semi-final in the last World Cup," said Magnin.

"It will be a big tests to play against them, but our game against China [Saturday's friendly match in Zurich] was good experience because it gave us an idea of how Asian sides play football."

Former world champions

France are not an unknown quantity for the Swiss team and two confident displays, resulting in draws, during the World Cup qualifying stages last year will reinforce a feeling among the players that they can hold their own against the former world champions.

"We have noticed that the French are getting into their stride in recent friendly games," said Magnin. "It will be difficult, but we have demonstrated in the past that we can play well against France and cause them some problems."

Switzerland's record against the 1998 World Cup winners is a credible two wins, two draws and three losses in the seven matches the two sides have played since 1986.

France are undoubtedly still one of the major football powers in the world with the likes of Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, David Trézéguet and Patrick Vieira in their line-up.

But they have lost some of their sparkle since winning the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship two years later, prompting Zidane and Lilian Thuram to come out of retirement.

Switzerland know they have a tough battle on their hands, but they will feel that they have enough talent in their own ranks to secure one of the two qualifying spots in their group.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

In brief

Switzerland qualified for the World Cup finals in November last year after securing second place in their group, behind France, and beating Turkey in a dramatic and controversial two-legged play-off tie.

The 32 countries that made the finals in Germany (starting on June 9) are split into eight groups of four teams. The top two teams of each group will qualify for the first knock-out stage, called the Round of 16 (starting on June 24).

This year's World Cup will be Switzerland's eighth appearance in the history of the tournament.

They reached the quarter-final stage in 1934, 1938 and 1954- the year Switzerland hosted the competition.

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Key facts

Switzerland versus France:
October 2005 (Bern) 1-1 draw in 2006 World Cup qualifier
March 2005 (Paris) 0-0 draw in 2006 World Cup qualifier
June 2004 (Portugal) 1-3 loss in Euro 2004 tournament
August 2003 (Geneva) 0-2 loss in friendly match
May 2002 (Lausanne) 2-1 win in friendly match
February 1988 (Toulouse) 1-2 loss in friendly match
August 1986 (Lausanne) 2-0 win in friendly match

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