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    Switzerland

    Switzerland manager Ottmar Hitzfeld unveiled his squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, with his 23-man list tallying with pundits' forecasts. The German veteran, due to wind up his management career after the tournament, stuck to the strategy of mixing experience and youth that helped put the Swiss among the top seeds for the World Cup.

    Hitzfeld's squad hails mainly from the German, Italian and Swiss top flights. Among his biggest names from the Bundesliga are stalwart goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, of Wolfsburg, and young star marksman Xherdan Shaqiri, of Bayern Munich. From Serie A, meanwhile, Hitzfeld tapped a trio of Napoli midfielders, Valon Behrami, Blerim Dzemaili and Gokhan Inler. There were two notable absences on his list, however.

    Bayer Leverkusen striker Eren Derdiyok had been widely expected to pay the price for his lack of Bundesliga action. But the failure to call up midfielder Pajtim Kasami, of freshly relegated English club Fulham, was a surprise given his solid performance during the World Cup qualifiers, his Switzerland debut. Both Derdiyok and Kasami fell foul of Hitzfeld's decision to pick two players for each position.

    They nonetheless remain on his seven-man reserve list ready to jump in if any of the main picks are injured before the 2 June deadline to provide FIFA with the definitive World Cup squad. Hitzfeld's decision to have two options per position reopened the door to the squad for defender Reto Ziegler, of Italian club Sassuolo, set to be the alternative option for Wolfsburg's Ricardo Rodriguez on the left wing.

    Switzerland are top seeds in Group E, which also includes France, Honduras and Ecuador. They open their World Cup campaign against Ecuador on 15 June in Brasilia's Estadio Nacional, before facing France on 20 June and Honduras on 25 June. Before travelling to Brazil, they have inked in two friendlies at home, taking on Jamaica on May 30 and Peru on June 3.

    Switzerland squad

    Goalkeepers:
    Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg/GER), Roman Buerki (Grasshopper), Yann Sommer (Basel)

    Defenders:
    Johan Djourou (Hamburg/GER), Michael Lang (Grasshopper), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus/ITA), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Fabian Schaer (Basel), Philippe Senderos (Valencia/ESP), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Reto Ziegler (Sassuolo/ITA)

    Midfielders:
    Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Valon Behrami (Napoli), Blerim Dzemaili (Napoli), Gelson Fernandes (Freiburg/GER), Goekhan Inler (Napoli), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich/GER), Valentin Stocker (Basel)

    Forwards:
    Josip Drmic (Nurnberg/GER), Mario Gavranovic (Zurich), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg), Haris Seferovic (Real Sociedad/ESP), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Moenchengladbach/GER)

    On standby:

    Goalkeeper: Marwin Hitz (Augsburg/GER)

    Defenders: Timm Klose (Wolfsburg), Silvan Widmer (Udinese/ITA)

    Midfielders and forwards: Eren Derdiyok (Bayer Leverkusen/GER), Fabian Frei (Basel), Pajtim Kasami (Fulham/ENG), Pirmin Schwegler (Eintracht Frankfurt)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 16 May at 12:00 CET.

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    Lichtsteiner: Swiss can cause trouble for big teams

    Stephan Lichtsteiner is hard to pin down. An industrious, tough-tackling presence at the back, in a flash the Swiss full-back can be rampaging forward and spreading panic in opposition defences thanks to his skill and technique. Besides performing his defensive duties unflaggingly, over the last year he has set up ten goals for his team-mates in all competitions, netting a further six of his own. His most recent effort was a towering header right into the top corner in the 2-0 friendly victory over Peru on 4 June. However, if Lichtsteiner is unpredictable, the teams he plays for are no less so.

    "We had an outstanding season in the league, scoring 102 points and winning all 19 matches at home and 33 out of 38 games overall; the stats speak for themselves. But we can't be satisfied with our results on the European stage," Juventus's undisputed first-choice right-back – formerly of Lille and Lazio – tells FIFA.com. "We failed to get out of the Champions League group stage despite having a reasonably friendly draw. We had a chance to make amends in the Europa League and didn't deliver then either. We had the potential to do better."

    The huge gulf between Juve's domestic and European form is a real head-scratcher. Ruthless against the likes of Napoli, Roma and AC Milan, the OldLadystumbled against FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray in the UEFA Champions League and then Benfica in the UEFA Europa League semi-finals, missing out on a final on home turf in Turin. "We're largely responsible for that failure. We perform with more focus and confidence in the league, while in Europe, small details play a bigger role and we haven't been able to work them in our favour. We made too many individual errors this year, but I'm convinced we won't repeat them next season," argues the Swiss Express, so nicknamed due to his constant shuttling up and down the right flank.

    In the meantime, the Bianconeri's long wait for a return to the Champions League winner's circle goes on. It has been 11 years now since they last reached the showpiece: an eternity for a club with such pedigree. What are these struggles down to? "Financially speaking, clearly the top Italian clubs, including Juve, can't keep up with the big boys in Spain, England and France", Lichtsteiner notes. "However, we can't use that as an excuse. Dortmund reached the Champions League final last year, Sevilla captured the Europa League this season, Atletico Madrid won the La Liga title and qualified for the Champions League final, and none of these clubs have the sort of budget the big Italian sides do. If success has smiled on them, why shouldn't it smile on us?"

    Swiss inconsistency
    Far from running like clockwork, Switzerland are another enigma. Sitting sixth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, making them Europe's third highest representatives, they nevertheless have a frustrating tendency to blow hot and cold. "Considering the size of our population, I think Switzerland are doing excellent work in all regards and have a very impressive talent pool to draw from. In fact, I think we're not far off the top nations on that front", Lichtsteiner stresses. "We haven't exploited our full potential yet. We have to follow the lead set by the best and that's exactly what we're trying to do, but we need to be more consistent in our performances against the so-called 'weaker' sides."

    This is a pressing issue: "It's something we really need to improve on. I think Switzerland can give any big team a tough game. At the same time, the 'smaller' countries still feel they have a chance against us. We still have trouble creating openings and forcing the pace, but we're working on it." These shortcomings are summed up by the fact that over the last year or so Die Nati have shown that they can get the better of Brazil (in a 1-0 win last August), but have also been held 0-0 by Cyprus (in March 2013) and beaten 2-1 by Korea Republic (last November). This patchy sequence brings to mind the Helvetians' campaign at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa where, after opening with a 1-0 victory over eventual champions Spain, they were knocked out at the group stage as a result of a 1-0 loss to Chile and a goalless draw against Honduras.

    "The players involved have gained more experience and grown more mature since then. At the same time, some very talented youngsters have come along and played a part, significantly raising the bar within the team. All in all, the team is a lot stronger than four years ago," says the full-back, who played in all three of his country's games in South Africa. "This year, we're going to do everything in our power to reach the Round of 16, ideally by topping our group. It won't be easy, but that's what we have to aim for. After the group stage, anything is possible. I hope we're going to be the surprise package at the World Cup." How big a surprise that would be is another question entirely: when Lichtsteiner is around, we have come to expect the unexpected.

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    Senderos: We’re expecting a lot from ourselves

    Despite being a seasoned member of the Switzerland squad, Philippe Senderos does not hold down a guaranteed starting place. Nevertheless, he will do everything he can to ensure his national side can reach the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals for the first time in 60 years. In many respects, the Swiss are among the high-flyers at Brazil 2014. The Helvetians qualified as group winners after their penultimate preliminary, a performance so strong that Ottmar Hitzfeld’s team surged up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to be included among the top seeds in December’s Final Draw for the world finals. As the tournament gets underway, Switzerland are currently ranked sixth, making them the fourth-best European side in Brazil behind Spain, Germany and Portugal.

    The team’s captivating performances are largely due to a perfect harmony between talented young players such as Ricardo Rodriguez, Fabian Schar or Xherdan Shaqiri and experienced campaigners like Tranquillo Barnetta, Gokhan Inler and Philippe Senderos. With 53 international caps to his name, Senderos knows that the expectations surrounding him and his team-mates are high at this, his third World Cup. However, as he explained in an interview with FIFA, he is keen to do everything in his power to make sure those expectations are met.

    "People both at home and overseas are expecting a strong showing from us, but we’re also expecting a lot from ourselves. We’ve got to push each other on to ensure we keep improving,” he said. The 190cm-tall centre-back and recent Aston Villa recruit knows his national side’s minimum target is to reach the Round of 16, but he is confident they can progress further still: “With the quality we have in our team, we believe we can beat anyone.”

    Competition for a place in the starting line-up is fierce and Senderos must compete with Fabian Schaer, Johan Djourou and Steve von Bergen for the two starting berths in the centre of defence. This rivalry is exactly what makes Senderos so confident. “We’ve got four players who can play in central defence. That kind of competition can only make us stronger.”

    Switzerland will make full use of the conditions in Porto Seguro to fine-tune their preparations ahead of their first match against Ecuador on Sunday 15 June. Their defensive stalwart is keen to ensure that he and his fellow countrymen can use the game as a springboard to reach their first quarter-finals since 1954.

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    Hitzfeld: Swiss are rejuvenated

    Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld believes his side are better, more creative and more attacking than four years ago when they stunned eventual FIFA World Cup™ winners Spain. Hitzfeld, the 65-year-old former coach of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, begins his Group E campaign against Ecuador on Sunday before his side face France and Honduras. The veteran boss believes a place in the last 16 is within his team's grasp, which would compensate for a first round exit in South Africa in 2010 despite their famous 1-0 win over the Spaniards.

    "My dream is to get to the second round and then we can dream of going further," said Hitzfeld on Saturday. The German, who retires after this FIFA World Cup, has blended the battle-hardened troops of 2010 with an exciting crop of youngsters such as Haris Seferovic and Granit Xhaka, as well as the highly-regarded Xherdan Shaqiri. "We started a transition four years ago, we have rejuvenated the group of experienced players," said Hitzfeld. "The team are better, more attacking, more creative with better organisation than in 2010. Switzerland are well-organised, capable of quickly switching from defence to attack. The players are tense, that's normal, but we have the experience to counter that."

    Despite his confidence, Hitzfeld is wary of the challenges posed by an Ecuador team that did not qualify in 2010 and whose best performance was a run to the last 16 in Germany in 2006: "They have some good players, their strength is the counter-attack. Every team has its strengths and weaknesses and Ecuador will have analysed ours." Switzerland are the top seeds in the group even though France are the 1998 World Champions and UEFA Euro 2000 winners, but Hitzfeld has plenty of respect for Didier Deschamps' side. "We are ahead of France in the FIFA standings because we have been successful with good performances in the last few years, but France have huge potential and are amongst the favourites."

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    Seferovic: Goal is for my father

    Switzerland's Haris Seferovic has declared his match-winning goal against Ecuador a birthday present to his father. Seferovic scored in added time to complete a 2-1 comeback victory for his side, just 15 minutes after coming off the bench. It provided a thrilling finale to the Group E clash in Brasilia, with Ecuador having launched their last attack moments prior to conceding at the other end. And Seferovic revealed his intervention came on a special day for his family. "I give a big thank you to my father, it was his birthday and I dedicate my goal to him," he said. "There is nothing better than achieving a goal like this and until I scored I had not seen a lot of the ball, but when it comes to it you have to be ready."

    Having slipped behind to Enner Valencia's opener, Switzerland needed another substitute to draw level. Admir Mehmedi was the scorer with his first touch since coming on at the interval. "Of course I was disappointed that I did not have the chance to play from the beginning but I was ready for my role," he added. "As a striker, you have to stand where I stood, one against one. Crucially, we never gave up. Morale and team spirit were the decisive factor for us."

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    Seferovic: We're young and hungry

    Switzerland's super-sub Haris Seferovic says his side are "hungry" for a FIFA World Cup™ win over neighbours France in Friday's key Group E clash after his last-minute winner against Ecuador. The 22-year-old came off the bench to score in the last minute of injury time and seal Switzerland's dramatic 2-1 win in Brasilia last Sunday to cap a remarkable Swiss fightback. Fellow substitute Admer Mehmidi had taken just 121 seconds after coming on at the break to cancel out Enner Valencia's first-half header for Ecuador.

    Next up are Didier Deschamps' France in Salvador with the French having also opened their account with a comfortable 3-0 win over Honduras to top the group. Seferovic says the second-placed Swiss are eager to prove themselves against Les Bleus at the Arena Fonte Nova. "We have experienced players like (Napoli pair Valon) Behrami, (Goekhan) Inler and (Juventus' Stephan) Lichtsteiner. We're young and we're hungry," said the striker.

    Having capped his World Cup debut with a goal, Seferovic is hungry for more. "I had a lovely time, it gives you confidence and I was just happy to have scored," he said. "The result allowed us to clear the first hurdle." Seferovic, who plays for Spanish top tier side Real Sociedad, scored the winning goal in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup™ Final for Switzerland against Nigeria in 2009, but says he is loving being on the big stage at the full senior tournament'.

    He expects an open game as the French, led up front by the in-form Karim Benzema who scored two in the opening win over Honduras, look to attack the Swiss. "There will surely be more space (than against Ecuador) because the French like to play more. They are strong in attack, but it may be their weakness to want to attack too much," said Seferovic.

    Seferovic will likely have his Real Sociedad club-mate and fellow striker Antoine Griezmann facing him and he has warned his Swiss team-mates to be wary of him. "Griezmann is a very good player, he is a fox, cunning, insolent," he said. "He knows where to run to, he never stays in the one place, and is definitely a player we need to pay attention to. But we have Stephane (Lichtsteiner), who is experienced and who will know what to do with regards to taking care of him."

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    Swiss dream of beating 'difficult' France

    Switzerland must find weaknesses in the French team as Les Bleus will offer the Swiss precious few chances in Friday's key FIFA World Cup™ clash, according to Swiss assistant coach Michel Pont. "It is extremely difficult to find weaknesses in the France team, it's the first time in 13 years that I've struggled to find them," said Ottmar Hitzfeld's deputy, who has been involved with the team since 2001."It is very well organised, compact defence, who make individual sacrifices which is down to the will of the players. We have to find weaknesses by jumping on every opportunity. If we try and pack all 10 players behind the ball, it won't work, we have to challenge them."

    Both teams won their openers with France topping the table after a convincing 3-0 win over Honduras. The Swiss secured a last-gasp victory over Ecuador as substitute Haris Seferovic netted in the last minute of injury time to claim a 2-1 come-back victory. "You have to get at the French and try to disrupt this magnificent machine," said Pont, talking up Didier Deschamps' side. "We have to make them doubt their game, but I don't think we can do that by physical impact. We have to move the ball, run a lot and make them doubt their grip on the game."

    Sixth-placed Switzerland are 11 places higher than the French according to FIFA's rankings, but they insist those standings mean nothing. "Us, favourites? Absolutely not," said Pont, who turns 60 on Thursday. "My dream is to beat France, it would be the greatest gift, and then go as far as possible. I am convinced that if we leave the group, we are able to go very far."

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    Benaglio: We've learnt from 2010

    The atmosphere at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha in Brasilia is electric. The Group E clash between Ecuador and Switzerland at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ is deep into stoppage time, with the game evenly poised at 1-1. Both sides could yet snatch all three points. Spurred on by most of the 68,351 fans in the arena, the South Americans pour forward one last time in search of a winner.

    The Ecuadorians attack down the right-hand side before playing the ball in towards the penalty spot. But just as goalkeeper Diego Benaglio prepares to make a save from a man in yellow, Valon Behrami dives in with a wonderful last-ditch slide tackle. Having blocked the shot, he picks himself up and drives forward. He then wins another challenge in midfield before passing the ball to a team-mate in the move that ultimately leads to Switzerland's last-gasp winner. “The goal that won us the game was absolutely crazy,” recalls the shot-stopper with immense satisfaction, the day after the match in an interview with FIFA. The three points will have certainly boosted Switzerland's self-belief, especially after snatching victory in such dramatic fashion. However, the 30-year-old VfL Wolfsburg keeper knows all too well that victory in the opening match offers no guarantees, having seen the Eidgenossen fail to qualify for the knockout stages four years ago in South Africa despite opening their campaign with a shock 1-0 win over reigning European champions Spain. Benaglio was part of that Switzerland side and is urging his team-mates not to get too carried away.

    A different set of circumstances
    “Of course, the atmosphere is good, but I think that everyone who was involved four years ago is wary of what can happen. We've learnt our lesson.” Benaglio, who has 57 caps, is clearly determined not to make the same mistake again. Admittedly, the circumstances are not quite the same as they were in South Africa in 2010, when Spain were the clear group favourites and Switzerland did not face their rivals for second place until later in the group stage. This time “we've already won against a competitor for a spot in the next round, so things already look brighter than at the last World Cup.” Benaglio and co. will go into their next clash with Group E favourites France brimming with confidence after their last-minute winner against the Ecuadorians. And should the Nati prevail over Les Bleus in Salvador, it would be the first time that any Switzerland side has ever won their first two matches at a World Cup finals. Much more importantly though, it would be a huge step towards securing a place in the Round of 16. The 1.95m-tall stopper firmly believes that he and his team-mates will rise to the challenge in South America: “We've learnt our lessons from 2010 and made so much progress. Now it is time to go out there and show what we can do."

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    Hitzfeld: We have to go beyond our limits for France result

    Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is relishing a World Cup 'derby' against France, but says the Swiss will have to go to the limits to beat their neighbours on Friday. Both teams go into the Group E match in Salvador with wins under their belt after France beat Honduras 3-0 while Switzerland scored a late goal to beat Ecuador 2-1. Sixth-placed Switzerland are 11 places higher than the French according to FIFA's world rankings, but Hitzfeld expects a tough test against Didier Deschamps' side.

    Hitzfeld, who is in his last tournament before he retires after a career which includes Champions League triumphs with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, was especially impressed by France's 3-0 play-off win in Paris against Ukraine to qualify for the finals last November after losing the first leg 2-0 in Kiev. "We're in a special position with France being our neighbours and it's a derby, so to speak, but if we are to have a chance, we really have to go beyond our limits," admitted Hitzfeld. "They are a team who have put in great performances and were impressive in their play-off win against Ukraine. "They put in an explosive performance and played with confidence. We'll have to be aggressive on attack, counter-attack quickly and then we'll have a chance."

    The Swiss say that despite Karim Benzema's good form that included two goals against Honduras, they do not have a specific plan to stop him. "If you worry about him too much, you forget the rest of the players around him," said centre-back Steve von Bergen, who is likely to be up against Benzema. "There is no anti-Karim Benzema plan, he's won the Champions League and is a world-class player, but once the game kicks off, he is just one very good player amongst others." France demolished the Jamaicans 8-0 in Lille with Benzema, midfielder Blaise Matuidi and Antoine Griezmann all scoring two goals apiece. In contrast, the Swiss needed a late Josip Drmic goal to beat the Jamaicans in Lucerne last month and Hitzfeld is all too aware that France have scored 21 goals in their last six games. "We beat Jamaica 1-0, while they beat them 8-0, which shows their attacking prowess, so we know what to expect," said Hitzfeld. "It will be an interesting match for connoisseurs of football and I hope we come out of it with the right result."

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    Injury sends von Bergen home

    Switzerland's Steve von Bergen will miss the rest of the FIFA World Cup™ after fracturing his left eye socket in the 5-2 defeat to France, the Swiss FA confirmed Saturday. The 31-year-old centre-back was accidentally kicked in the head by France striker Olivier Giroud after seven minutes of their Group E clash in Salvador on Friday and had to be helped off with a deep cut over his left eye. He was taken to hospital where a scan revealed the extent of the injury.

    "He will be repatriated as soon as possible to Switzerland, accompanied by Dr Roland Grossen," read a statement from the Swiss Federation. "He will then be cared for by specialists."

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