Euro 2016 Preview - Switzerland: Can the Swiss spring a surprise?

Will Vladimir Petkovic's side exceed their modest expectations in France this summer?

Euro 2016 Preview - Switzerland: Can the Swiss spring a surprise?
Euro 2016 Preview - Switzerland: Can the Swiss spring a surprise?

After failing to qualify for the 2012 European Championship in Ukraine and Poland, on 9 October 2016 a 7-0 win over San Marino confirmed that Vladimir Petkovic’s Switzerland would be heading to France for Euro 2016 this summer.

Admittedly, Rossocrociati have a modest record in this tournament, only qualifying three other times for the finals proper, and never making it past the Group Stages – but Switzerland will take heart from their performance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where it took a late goal in extra time - by Argentina’s Ángel Di María – to put them out of the tournament at the Round of 16 stage.

Defensive stability

In recent years, Switzerland have been known for being hard to break down, and currently own the record for the longest amount of time without conceding a goal during the World Cup – an impressive 559-minute streak over the 2006 and 2010 versions of the tournament.

They will hope to play to their strengths in France, after securing qualification through finishing second - behind England – in Group E. It was far from glittering, but manager Petkovic will take heart from the fact his side only lost three games, two of which were against an England side that topped the group in style, winning all 10 of their matches. Switzerland also showed impressive spirit, coming from two goals behind to beat Slovenia 3-2, scoring three times in the last 10 minutes.

Switzerland come back to beat Slovenia. Photo: UEFA
Switzerland come back to beat Slovenia. Photo: UEFA

Petkovic, however, will be hoping for more from his players in France, as since taking the reigns after Switzerland’s heart-breaking loss in the 2014 World Cup, his side have struggled. Tactically, Switzerland are reasonably solid in defence – with players such as Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez and veteran Stephan Lichtsteiner of Juventus – but Petkovic’s side may struggle for goals this summer, and his is a squad currently low on confidence.

A lack of goals

"The Swiss are seriously lacking form"

The Swiss come into Euro 2016 seriously lacking form, defeated by Ireland (1-0) and Belgium (2-1) in their latest friendlies. Despite scoring 24 times in qualifying – which would suggest there is nothing wrong with Switzerland’s goal-scoring capabilities – Petkovic’s side scored 11 of these against San Marino, and their lack of firepower has been horribly exposed elsewhere – including being unable to score in both matches against group winners England.

Key players

Undoubtedly, Switzerland are going to have to look to star man Xherdan Shaqiri if they are to fulfil their expectation of at least making it out of the Group Stages. After taking an unusual career path – from Bayern Munich, to Inter Millan, before arriving at Stoke City – Shaqiri perhaps hasn’t quite lived up to his billing for the Potters. He is, however, capable of moments of magic, and will be vital if Switzerland are going to reach the knockout stages in France.

Shaqiri in action for Stoke City. Photo: Getty Images
Shaqiri in action for Stoke City. Photo: Getty Images

Petkovic will be hoping that some of his surprise packages can also make an impact, particularly Cameroon-born striker Breel Embolo. The 19-year-old has impressed in recent weeks, most notably in the 1-0 loss to Ireland, and has already won three consecutive titles with FC Basel: an impressive statistic for someone who has yet to turn 20.

"Switzerland will fancy their chances of progressing"

When all’s said and done, Switzerland will ultimately fancy their chances of qualifying from their group. Drawn against hosts France – who are rightly being billed as one of the favourites – winning the group may be too much to ask – but against Romania and modest Albania, the Swiss will be quietly confident. If Petkovic’s players fire on the day, Switzerland shouldn’t have too many problems meeting expectations, but the question is: have they enough in the locker to threaten some of the “bigger” sides in the competition?

Fixtures

Albania - Switzerland Sat 11 June 14:00

Romania - Switzerland Wed 15 June 17:00

Switzerland - France Sun 19 June 20:00

The Interview

We spoke to @FootballSwiss to see what they thought of their national side’s chances in France this summer.

Switzerland finished in a comfortable second place in their qualifying group, falling behind only to an England side that won all their games. How would you rate their performance in qualifying and which players do you think impressed - or even disappointed?

It wasn't outstanding by any means but they achieved what was expected of them. It seemed before a ball was kicked that it was a straight shootout between Switzerland and Slovenia and it turned out that way so there were no real surprises.

"The team did as expected"

The team did as expected, the loss to Slovenia away was disappointing but they only lost two other games, both to England. Their performance at home to Slovenia was average though and and only three goals in the last ten minutes won the points.

I think overall, the strikers disappointed. It is a problem. The team scored 24 goals but it is worth considering that Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino were in the group. Drmic and Seferovic managed only three goals each and Seferovic scored two of his vs. San Marino.

Shaqiri continues to be the star man and he was top goalscorer with four goals over the campaign.

Vladimir Petković has named his provisional 28-man squad. Who do you think is the most notable absence from the team and should anyone feel hard done by for not being included? Are there any surprise inclusions?

Petkovic opted not to take Kasami or Inler, two players who featured in the 2014 World Cup squad and are usually featured regularly. His decision on Kasami was that he already had similar midfielders. Inler has barely played often this season but many would've still expected him to make the squad.

Inler in Leicester City training. Photo: LCFC
Inler in Leicester City training. Photo: LCFC

As for surprise inclusions, 19-year olds Nico Elvedi and Denis Zakaria make the squad. Both are uncapped and it remains to be seen if either of them actually make the final cut. Tarashaj is also involved, he's already been capped twice though and is playing in the Premier League next season with Everton.

Other than that, no real surprises.

Switzerland have been drawn in Group A with Albania, Romania and hosts France. What is a realistic group aim for Petković's side? Is it a case of aiming for second with a strong French team rightly favourites to top the group?

I think people are realistic. France are strong favourites for the group and the entire tournament. They have a really strong squad and strength in depth so I think first place in the group has to be conceded to the hosts. The aim will definitely be to finish second and qualify.

"Any of three teams can claim second"

It was a similar situation to the World Cup. Switzerland were drawn with France, Ecuador and Honduras and second was the aim there too. That being said, the World Cup was a straight shootout between Ecuador and Switzerland while any of the three teams can claim that second spot.

Switzerland definitely has the ability to finish second and the fans will be expecting it but I think the confidence has lowered a little since the draw was made and it won't be easy by any means.

Does Petković have any big issues to solve in the run up to the competition, or will he have tactics and squad selections already pretty much set in stone?

From my perspective, there is much work to be done and I'm not sure how he will go about it. It may be a change in tactics or something else but the team was unimpressive in two friendly matches earlier this year when they played Ireland and Bosnia.

"One issue is lack of goals"

The one issue for me is the lack of goals. The strikeforce doesn't score nearly enough. The four strikers called up have 128 caps between them and only 21 goals. The goalkeepers and midfield is strong enough for me, while the defence has some individuals that perhaps don't fill the supporter with confidence. 

I think, in short, the run-up to the tournament would look much brighter of the team and strikers scored more goals.

For the uninitiated, who are Switzerland's 'key' players? Who should the fans be keeping their eyes out for as the players get under way in France?

I think Shaqiri is the star man and has been for a while. He scored a hat-trick vs. Honduras to send Switzerland through in the last World Cup and netted a late winner in Lithuania to gain crucial points in the qualifiers for this tournament. He is usually influential and will probably be vital again this time around.

Xhaka signs for Arsenal. Photo: Getty Images
Xhaka signs for Arsenal. Photo: Getty Images

A lot of eyes will be on Granit Xhaka after his move to Arsenal while in defence, Ricardo Rodriguez is normally a consistent performer. Fabian Schar, while he can be inconsistent, is a good defender to have in the team.

Breel Embolo is someone else that many will have heard lots about. He is still only 19 and has nine caps to his name. He has lots of potential and is subject of much interest in the transfer market but he won't necessarily light up the tournament in the summer - but you should definitely keep your eye out for him.

Lastly, how far do you think Switzerland can go this summer? What must they have to do well in order to play to their strengths and progress as far as possible?

The last sixteen is the best that can be hoped for and that, as I said, is the expectation. Anything less is a disappointment. 

"Last 16 is the best to be hoped for"

That being said, if the Swiss manage to qualify in second, they face the runner-up of Group C which one would expect to be Ukraine, Poland or Northern Ireland. All tough games but they are matches that Switzerland would have a chance of progressing further in the tournament in.

The goalkeepers are good, the defence needs to be strong and the players in it need to be on their game at all times, the midfield is solid enough and the strikers need to score more goals. It all needs to come together if anything further than the last sixteen is to be achieved.

Switzerland will get their Euro 2016 campaign underway against Albania on Saturday 11 June.