The Swiss bank on Shaqiri: World Cup Preview - Switzerland
Final 23-man World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg), Yann Sommer (Basel), Roman Bürki (Grasshopper).
Defenders: Stefan Lichsteiner (Juventus), Philippe Senderos (Valencia), Johan Djourou (Hamburg), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Reto Ziegler (Sassuolo), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Fabian Schär (Basel), Michael Lang (Grasshopper).
Midfielders: Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt), Gökhan Inler, Blerim Džemaili and Valon Behrami (all Napoli), Gelson Fernandes (Freiburg), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Valentin Stocker (Basel).
Forwards: Mario Gavranovi? (Zürich), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg), Haris Seferovi? (Real Sociedad), Josip Drmi? (Nürnberg).
Switzerland’s Road to Rio
Switzerland were handed a relatively straight-forward passage to the finals in Brazil, with their main contenders in the group of 6 being the relatively lowly Iceland and Slovenia. An unbeaten record of 7 wins and 3 draws shows their consistency with which they disposed of the opposition and, despite qualification being all but mathematically secure for some time, they retained their professionalism through to the end. Several impressive performances were given by their captain Gökhan Inler as he popped up with some vital goals from his midfield berth. While they will certainly face teams that pose a greater threat in Brazil, the Swiss can draw on their impressive qualification experience for hope that they can achieve something in the summer.
After conceding only 6 goals in their entire qualification campaign, Switzerland’s defence has a high quality not only on paper but in practice too. Lichsteiner is a fantastically marauding right-back, Fabian Schär is a highly sought after talent across Europe, and they possess experience with Senderos and von Bergen. They are also strong in central midfield, as they can draw upon many energetic players to harry the opposition. In Xhaka and Inler, they also do not lack technique and precision. Xherdan Shaqiri can play all across the forward line and provides a fantastic injection of pace to partner Valentin Stocker’s trickery and skill. One area in which they are certainly light is up front. It is because of this that may well be the factor that limits their success in Brazil.
Three Key Players
Stefan Lichsteiner: The Juventus man can apply himself equally well either as a conventional right-back or as a wing-back. Having this option and opposition having the constant fear of being attacked from deep will often force the defence to drop deeper and will seriously inhibit the effectiveness of their left-sided winger. Furthermore, when Xherdan Shaqiri chooses to cut in-field onto his stronger left foot, Lichsteiner can overlap him. Whether he receives a pass to produce a testing cross or draws defenders away from others, he is highly useful.
Gökhan Inler: Switzerland’s captain and heart of the engine room, Gökhan Inler is the central cog to this team that makes everything fall into place. He has the stamina and desire to help out in defence one minute and then make a supporting run into the opponent’s penalty area the next. Much of their play will go through him and his importance is such that the tempo of the game can be dictated by him if he receives the ball with enough space. The Napoli man popped up with some vital goals in the qualification run and should he get a couple in Brazil too, it may go a long way to securing safe passage through the group.
Xherdan Shaqiri: Bayern Munich’s flying winger has not had the fortune of a huge amount of game time in Bavaria this season. He is of course fighting for a spot in the side with the world class pair of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery ahead of him. During slumps in form for either of the starters, there was a certain clamour for Shaqiri to be given a more extended run in the side, and it is easy to see why. The combination of electric pace, squat posture and low centre of gravity make for a terrific dribbler and defenders will often not risk making a challenge for fear of giving away a foul. Switzerland may be slightly blessed that he has not played a massive amount of football in the last 12 months, as he will certainly be fresh and opposition defenders may not be as well versed in how to stop his runs.
Probable Starting XI
Switzerland are in a group with Ecuador, Honduras, and fellow Europeans France. It is safe to assume that the French will provide the sternest test of the three but as we have all seen in the last couple of international tournaments, it is not a rarity for mutiny to be rife in their camp. Ecuador have the advantage of being used to the South American conditions but I believe Switzerland should have enough quality to overcome both them and the Hondurans. Progressing from this group in first place will be absolutely crucial as it would be likely to mean that you avoided the might of Argentina in the first knock-out round. I feel that no one from this group would be able to defeat Argentina, making the game between the Swiss and French a massive one. This takes place on Matchday 2 and could go a long way to giving us all a better idea of who will finish the group on top. Personally, I think France will have just too much for Switzerland over the course of 3 matches, possibly only leading them by goal difference. This would probably result in Switzerland facing Argentina in the last 16, sadly almost certainly signalling the end to the Swiss endeavour.