Potential to be their best-ever team

icon worldcup generic118 October ~ Despite a strong record of qualifying for major international tournaments over recent decades, Switzerland is not a country that automatically expects to do so. Consequently, a canter through qualifying, assured by victory in Albania in the penultimate match, meant that the players cavorting in their sunshine yellow "Suisse Goes Brazil" T-shirts were greeted rapturously by the crowd in Bern after their final fixture against Slovenia. Spirits around the country rose further after Tuesday evening's results from elsewhere.

Italy's 2-2 draw with Armenia had elevated Switzerland to seventh in the FIFA rankings, virtually guaranteeing them a place among the top seeds in the draw for the finals.

Even the veteran German coach of the "Nati", Ottmar Hitzfeld – whom the generally less than effusive Swiss often consider taciturn and conservative – got caught up in the prevailing euphoria. Hitzfeld was struck by a dose of the Ally MacLeods, declaring that his team's ranking "would be broadcast around the world" and that they were going "to create a furore" in Brazil and reach the quarter-finals at least.

He was backed in this prediction by over 65 per cent of the readers of the newspaper Le Matin, who said that the team would reach the quarters or beyond in an admittedly unscientific poll conducted the morning after the Slovenia game.

There have been plenty of reasoned voices among the fervour though. An awareness of being a small country surrounded by larger powers applies to football as much as life, history and politics. Even the more flag-waving tabloids such as Blick have been quick to point out that Switzerland's qualifying group was not the strongest and consisted of even smaller nations than them (Norway, Slovenia, Albania, Cyprus and Iceland).

Le Matin also noted that "it is impossible not to see an injustice in Brazil and the last Euro and World Cup finalists, Italy and The Netherlands, being ranked behind us". The consensus is that Switzerland will need to beat a few other top ten teams in order to really justify their new-found status.

While recognising that their FIFA ranking is probably inflated, there is still plenty of pride in Switzerland about the successful qualifying campaign and a long unbeaten run of 14 games (only the Dutch are currently on a longer one, at 15 matches). Confidence has also been boosted by what Hitzfeld justifiably describes as "the strong, winning mentality" of his talented new generation.

This is not yet Switzerland's best ever team – most would cite with historical accuracy their World Cup quarter-finalists of 1934, 1938 and 1954, with a popular shout going out for Roy Hodgson's team that, in 1994, qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 28 years.

But the widespread opinion is that this team has a chance of surpassing all of them. It has a sprinkling of star quality in Gokhan Inler of Napoli and Xherdan Shaqiri of Bayern Munich, plus a solid core of players from strong clubs around Europe.

Best of all, the bulk of the team is young and has plenty of capacity for improvement – with high hopes being held out for the likes of centre-forward and star of Switzerland's 2009 Under-17's World Cup winning side, Haris Seferovic. All in all, the post-qualification mood in Switzerland is one of delight at getting to Brazil so convincingly and modest optimism about the team's chances there next summer. Paul Knott

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