Switzerland’s ideal has always been on the basis of a successful defence – and to score one more than the opposition. Although Head Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld did tremendously well in getting Switzerland to the finals in South Africa, he has actually failed to the change the way the Swiss play their football. All the plaudits that Hitzfeld got after the Spain victory were soon forgotten when then they lost 1-0 to Chile in their second match. The placidity of the Swiss, and their struggle to change from defence to attack, was poor to say the least. Against Honduras, where they did not create much, they still could not take one of their chances. They failed to score against a poor side, and that is why they are going home.
It is very surprising how they struggle to score so few goals when they have a striker in Alexander Frei who has scored 40 goals in 73 appearances for the national side. Even his lack of goals in recent matches was enough for Hitzfeld to drop him to the bench, despite being captain. Hitzfeld’s decision to put so much faith in young striker Eren Derdiyok has backfired after he missed glorious chances in the games against Chile and Honduras – the most notable of these was against Chile, where he managed to miss the target from just 12 yards unchallenged. The fact that Switzerland has only conceded one World Cup goal since 1994 shows why their exit hurts more than others. If they had conceded loads on the way and scored a few, maybe we would be talking about their poor defence, but we are not.
Hitzfeld’s decision not to include Hakan Yakin in the team was also a huge surprise. Yakin has been part of the Swiss set up for the last two World Cups, but has failed to nail down a regular spot in that time. Hitzfeld knew Switzerland had to win the game to stand any chance of advancing through the group, but did not play his more talented forward players. Yakin has the ability to change the game at any moment, whether it being from a set piece or a flash of brilliance. Switzerland just needed something different.
There will be no calls from Swiss fans for the sacking of Hitzfeld, but they will demand a change in tactics from the manager. It obviously does not just come down to the manager’s decisions and style of management, but also the players he has at his disposal. Many of his players possess many of the same qualities. Huge levels of desire, commitment but they lack the one thing that sets certain players apart from the rest, and that is quality. Not just quality, but the ability to make something happen out of nothing. Not one of their current squad can change the game in a blink of an eye, and this counts against them. The reason why they beat Spain was not down to class, but down to stubbornness and organisation. The country is crying out for the emergence of some talent over the next coming years. Xherdan Shaquiri, who is only 18, got his first taste of World Cup football against Honduras tonight, and is a very promising player.
If Hitzfeld can find the perfect balance between defence and attack then Switzerland could go a lot further than their best ever World Cup finish – that being a quarter-final finish in 1954. The Swiss will be in the same European qualification group as England for 2012 and it will be tough campaign for Hitzfeld and his players to make it to the finals in Poland and Ukraine.