WORLD CUP : Team profile – switzerland (group g)

After failing to qualify for France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002, Switzerland made amends for missing out on the previous two World Cup finals by claiming a place at the 2006 tournament in Germany.

The away-goal rule was the decisive factor in their success as Kobi Kuhn’s side edged through by a thin margin in a heart-stopping play-off against Turkey. Despite falling 4-2 in their second leg in Istanbul, they advanced by virtue of their 2-0 victory in Bern four days earlier. The tournament in Germany will be the first World Cup appearance since 1994 for the Swiss who are due to host the 2008 UEFA European Championship jointly with Austria.

Switzerland made it to the round of sixteen on their last finals appearance at USA 1994, but fell 3-0 against Spain despite the presence of established stars such as Ciriaco Sforza and Stephane Chapuisat. The current youthful and ambitious crop will be hoping to achieve at least as much in their country’s eighth finals outing in Germany, and some observers believe they have the potential to emerge as the surprise package of the tournament.

Before the play-off second-leg defeat by Turkey, the Swiss had gone a full year and 14 straight games without defeat, evidence of their growing strength that includes players who attracted rave reviews at various under-age levels. Their line-up in the play-offs featured Tranquillo Barnetta and Philippe Senderos, both of whom claimed UEFA European U-17 Championship honours in 2002.

Kuhn’s men remained undefeated throughout their qualifying campaign in European Group 4, amassing 18 points from ten fixtures. The highlights of a solid campaign included two draws against France and an identical result against Ireland, although in the tightest of all the European sections, the Swiss were left sweating right to the end before edging out Israel for second place.

The team marshalled by skipper Johann Vogel features a healthy blend of youth and experience. Veteran keeper Pascal Zuberbuhler barks out commands at the back, while midfielder Raphael Wicky stamps his authority on the midfield. Starlets such as Arsenal stopper Senderos and Bayer Leverkusen’s Barnetta unquestionably belong in the international game, while Alexander Frei from French first division outfit Stade Rennes has at times shown a killer instinct in front of goal.

The Switzerland coach Jakob ‘Kobi’ Kuhn took the helm in 2001 and has presided over a successful period in the national team’s history.

WC participations: 7 (1934, 1938, 1950, 1954, 1962, 1966, 1994)

WC honours: Quarter-final (1934, 1938, 1954)

Continental Titles: None

Slogan: 2006, it’s Swiss o’clock