THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

{mosimage} 25 June ~ The England squad are not the only poor unfortunates bored by life at the World Cup. The Swiss press are too. Been in South Africa a week. Done the incredible history. Done the natural splendour. Done the vibrant cities. Done the outrage about the abysmal Saudi referee in the Chile game. Bored, bored, bored. As a result, the last couple of days have been spent drumming up a non-story about the failure of the captain, Alex Frei, to attend a press conference for the best part of ten whole days. Even worse, they are feeling jilted – as the cad has allegedly been muttering sweet nothings into the ear of a German journalist instead.

Fortunately this gripping scandal looks to have been ended by Frei’s stroke of genius in attending an eve-of-game press conference as planned all along. He used the occasion to point out that he did not usually speak to the press much once a tournament was underway, preferring to spend his time doing his job, preparing for important games and all that. And, no, he was not sulking about not getting much playing time so far due to his ankle injury. He was just rather busy with a programme of intensive rehabilitation to get it right in time for the vital game against Honduras on Friday evening.

As Frei could have gone on to say, but did not, his participation might be crucial. Switzerland have been left in the uncomfortable position, for them, of needing to engage in a goal chase and no one in the squad is better equipped to lead it, in terms of international goals scored. The requirement for a win by two clear goals against Honduras to be sure of qualifying for the second round means rejigging a team that is best equipped for defending stoutly and counter-attacking. As usual, coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is giving little away about his team selection. He has praised everyone in the party with a vague instinct for forward motion and suggested that all bar the bus driver are in contention to play.

One thing we can be sure of is that the meticulous Hitzfeld will have had a plan in place for this scenario for quite some time and his impressively dedicated players will have practised it thoroughly. What remains to be seen is whether they have sufficient offensive quality to implement it without sacrificing their defensive solidity. The change of emphasis to making the running renders this a difficult task for the Swiss.

A better referee would help too. Mercifully, the “Gottmar” nickname attached to Hitzfeld after the Spain victory appears to have been shelved in the wake of the Chile defeat. One hopes this is partly out of respect for a genuinely religious man. But he was also notably uncharitable, by his own high standards, about the official, Khalid Al-Ghamdi, after the Chile game, commenting that some referees were appropriate for games on a football pitch, others only for kick-abouts on the beach. Hopefully the efforts of the players will be the main influence on the game tonight. Paul Knott

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