Hitzfeld's team aim to justify FIFA ranking
20 June ~ Sundays are still special in Switzerland. The shops stay closed and silence reigns. As a result, the euphoria unleashed by Haris Seferovic's last-gasp winner against Ecuador last Sunday evening felt all the more dramatic. People sang and car horns blared long into the night, as Switzerland became temporarily unchained. The hangover soon set in, though, prompting analysis of how they had got into a tight spot with a below-par performance. The players' explanation was that the tournament build-up and expectation raised by their new status as seeds had caused the anxiety evident in the first half.
There has been much talk from the camp of "a weight being lifted from our shoulders" and the players are clearly more relaxed this week. There have been many more smiles, photos and autographs dispensed around their base in Porto Seguro and a series of strikingly cheery press conferences on the beach. As coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has noted, there is a particular confidence boost that comes from discovering the will and resources to win at the death, even when you have not played well. The mood, then, is bright going into the game against France.
The French speaking part of Switzerland is especially fired-up about tonight's contest against their overbearing neighbours. It carries less emotion for the German and Italian speakers in the squad but they have plenty of other motivations. Since being controversially selected as seeds, the players have been focused on justifying their FIFA ranking. And the mantra in the camp since qualifying has been that they are in Brazil "to make Swiss football history". Their measure of this is reaching the quarter-finals, at least – an objective that would become more attainable if they were to win the group and almost certainly avoid Argentina in the second round.
That objective indicates that Switzerland will be less content with a draw tonight than might otherwise have been the case. There is little doubt that they will be focused, as centre-half Johan Djourou says, on "the importance of defending well as a team all over the pitch". But the Swiss will also commit plenty of bodies to their counter-attacks, notably the rampaging wing-backs Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez. The latter set up both Swiss goals last Sunday and is already emerging as one of the revelations of the tournament.
They will expect a better performance too from their main creative talent, Xherdan Shaqiri, now that he has had a full competitive game under his belt after barely playing since March. Shaqiri will be aided by the in-form attacking midfielder and goalscoring supersub from last Sunday, Admir Mehmedi, who is likely to start in place of the out of sorts Valentin Stocker. As Hitzfeld says, this is a game without a clear favourite because "France have great players and have hit form but we have earned respect with our results. It will be an eyeball to eyeball duel". Paul Knott