By sportswriter Wang Chunyan BEIJING
China (Xinhua) -- Switzerland fans
have waited a long time to see their expectations exceeded at a
major tournament. And while the team appears good enough on
paper to progress to the knockout stages in Russia, a tough draw
makes that a trickier prospect than it might have been.
Now into his fourth
year at the helm, coach Vladimir Petkovic can call upon several
talented players in the peak of their careers, though their
group contains the likes of favorites Brazil, rising stars
Serbia, and 2014 quarterfinalists Costa Rica.
Things are unlikely to get easier for Switzerland if they do
manage to negotiate their way out of the group stage, with
defending champions Germany potentially lying in wait in the
next stage of the competition.
Despite only ending
up in Russia via the playoffs, Switzerland’s qualifying campaign
was fairly convincing, winning eight games and only losing out
to Portugal for the automatic qualifying spot by virtue of an
inferior goal difference.
Over the last two
decades Switzerland have relied on compact and disciplined
performances to qualify for major tournaments.
However, Petkovic has strived to instil a more attacking,
possession-based style of play and the progress made in this
regard has been clearly evident.
“We’ve grown a lot
as a team,” noted the coach.
“We can act but we can also react during a game,” Former
Switzerland captain Ciriaco Sforza agreed, noting that the 2018
squad had the makings of “a great team.”
In the 1990s
Switzerland were content simply to qualify for tournaments.
But expectations have been raised thanks to a fourth successive
finals appearance, beating eventual champions Spain in 2010 and
only narrowly losing to Argentina in Brazil four years ago.
“Compared to five or
six years ago our quality is different now,” said Arsenal
midfielder Granit Xhaka.
“All of our players are first-team regulars at top clubs. Just
like their neighbours Germany, Switzerland are now famed for
Yann Sommer and Roman Burki are both first-choice custodians at
Bundesliga clubs, although the former is Petkovic’s consistent
first-choice pick, impressing with consistently superb displays.
Switzerland will be relying on the creative style of 26-year-old
Xherdan Shaqiri, who will look to use Russia to put himself in
the shop window as he seeks to move on from relegated Stoke
youngster Breel Embolo has had two injury-hit seasons in the
Bundesliga, but still looks the best option for the main
“We want to get to
the quarterfinals,” said Petkovic. “That would be the next big
step for us. I know that our fans have that hope and
expectation. So does the team and so do I.”