Swiss National Team

La Nati

Every four years, national pride and footie artistry reach peak levels in a global dance of no small magnitude, the World Cup is here again. This summer, all eyes will be focused on Russia as the time to crown a champion draws ever near. With the sport’s best and brightest from 32 lucky nations on display, it’s time to take a look at what each squad brings to the table. We will dive deep beyond the usual team sheets, we’ll scratch beyond the player names, and get you ready to be the smartest on the couch/bar stool for Russia 2018.


Qualifying Record (W-D-L) 9-0-1
Current FIFA World Ranking (April 2018) – 6th
World Cup 2014 Finish – 2nd Round exit (1-0 loss to Argentina)
Russia 2018 Group E (Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia)
Formation – 4-2-3-1
Strengths – Speed of counterattacks, organization, great pressing
Weaknesses – Finishing is a huge issue, tempo i.e. controlling the game, CB focus
Major Threats – Granit Xhaka, Breel Embolo, Valon Behrami

Switzerland has the world’s oldest policy of military neutrality and the Swiss are generally perceived globally to be inclined that way (rightly or wrongly, this is about football not politics). This generation of La Nati are the embodiment of neutrality and middle ground though, a team of many good players but no stars. They’re good enough and organized enough to consistently beat up weaker sides but not potent enough to trouble any heavyweights unless things break just right.
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Realistic Federation Goal for RUSSIA 2018:

The SFV will expect to get out of the opening group stage and ideally they’ll hope to go one better than 2014 when they were knocked out in the 2nd round. The problem this time is they’re grouped with Brazil who will likely top Group E, and finishing 2nd in the group means a round-of-16 encounter with the winner of Group F (most likely defending champs, Germany) so unless things break just right, they’ll be content with another decent 2nd round showing.


Things breaking just right is a theme for the Swiss if they’re going to cause a major upset at the Mundial and the defense is the first place to display that. Coach Vladimir Petkovic has got a reputation as a pragmatic coach over the years and while the Swiss style tend to be a bit pragmatic, the composition of the defense is the first place to show that aforementioned need for things to break right.

The wingbacks in the Swiss 4-2-3-1 are captain Stephan Lichtsteiner of Juventus who is 34 years old. While he is capable of some scintillating displays down the right flank, there is a good reason he is not going to be playing for Juve next season. This is a young man’s sport and at the wingback position in the modern game, you need more than just experience and savvy to be a fixture at the top. Lichtsteiner never quite got his due in the world of soccer as one of the games top rightbacks and in his prime, he was among the top 3 RBs in world football, he had everything needed to perform both going forward and defending but his prime is on the other side of the fence at this point. Things need to break just right for him to perform at the very top level during the course of the tournament.

The other wingback is a different story. Five seasons at Wolfsburg built Ricardo Rodriguez (now 25 years old) a following as one of the world’s brightest left back prospects. His magical ability on dead balls added flash to his game but it was his ability to totally own that flank (from speed to crossing to marking to power, he has it all) that got him accolades and suitors from all over. He made the move to AC Milan and what followed was an up and down season that didn’t ever quite hit the heights he was accustomed to in Germany. His form going into the World Cup is not exactly scalding hot, once again things need to break just right.

The centerback positions has the superb Fabian Schar paired with Manuel Akanji. Akanji is one of the young introductions to the team but the Dortmund man’s emergence has been great. He dovetails excellently with Schar but additionally brings a level of strength, pace and on-the-ball ability to the CB unit that Johan Djourou or Timm Klose just don’t have. When the Swiss defensive line push forward to compress the field in situations, Akanji has the ability to catch straying attackers who escape the press.

In goal, the Swiss are spoiled with goalies at the moment. Yann Sommer is the regular starter but he’s backed up by Roman Burki who’s a very fine goalie in his own right. The entire defense is excellent as a whole, the centerbacks are strong and play very well together and apart from the occasional lapse in focus, they can be stifling. The wingbacks are good going forward and at helping out the defense and once again, when things break their way, both are very able to dominate their wings. The midfield generally presses very well and works in tandem with the defense to give La Nati a unit that is compact and defensively sound. All this is great until the opponent scores first which is when the seams start to loosen up with this defense. A good team can then proceed to pick it apart because as the midfielders press in the attack, the layer of defensive shield is gone and without it, the defense isn’t good enough to hold off heavyweight sides.


The Swiss midfield is very important. As mentioned above, it is a very vital part of the defensive structure and additionally it is a key part of the attack. A major issue for Switzerland over the years has been getting goals. The lack of proper goal scorers means that the Swiss midfield has to pour in their share of goals, and through qualification many of the goals came from the central midfield or the wings.

The ‘2’ in the 4-2-3-1 formation consist of Granit Xhaka (a figure of controversy for Arsenal fans) and lately Denis Zakaria has paired with him there.
Xhaka is a classic deep lying playmaker who has often been mischaracterized by Arsenal fans who expected the next Patrick Vieira when he was bought. Given time and space on the ball, he is a devastating passer who can find the attacking four from anywhere on the field, and a guy who can play pretty much any pass in the book. In the international game, he is likely to be afforded that luxury which was absent in the Premier League. The problem will come when he faces the heavyweight sides who can compress his space and time without giving up much in the other facets of their structure. That’s when Switzerland will struggle and that’s when Xhaka will struggle.

Zakaria is a greenhorn at 21 but he has shown qualities that pair well with Xhaka’s. He cleans up well and isn’t averse to fighting cleanly for the ball. He plays the simple pass out neatly, and his vision is generally good. He’s 21 though so the mistakes that come with learning also show up on occasion. If Zakaria doesn’t partner Xhaka, Remo Freuler or Valon Behrami will be the other man in the ‘2’. They’re both hardworking guys who maintain discipline in their role albeit while showing some limitations that good teams can exploit.

In front of the two, Blerim Dzemaili plays just behind the striker, while Steven Zuber and Xherdan Shaqiri will attack from the wings. Dzemaili is a really good player with a decent shot on him and neat vision to spot runners but the fact that he’s the guy behind the center forward can be problematic as he’s more of a distributor than an all round attacking machine. It’s a problem because the Swiss have issues scoring and need more finishers and less distributors. Zuber and Shaqiri will take care of stretching the opposing defense though both like to cut inside and allow the Swiss wingbacks run into the spaces behind them. Shaqiri especially was supposed to be the next big thing in world football but the Bayern days are long gone and the world awaits his next move after Stoke City. The three attacking midfielders are all tidy ball passers who can be a handful on their day. They work well in tandem with the defense and the ‘2’ CMs behind them as well as making sure the center forward is well fed but none of the three can be termed ‘devastating’. They’re good players who will generally struggle to take over or wreck a game when it counts.


Granit Xhaka


The striking issue is simple for the Swiss team. Will Coach Petkovic eschew pragmatism and drop Haris Seferovic for Breel Embolo? Seferovic is a player with decent movement, decent ability to lead the line, decent shooting skills but he’s the striker who needs 7 clear chances to put one away, the guy who was booed (harshly) by Swiss fans after missing several chances during qualifying. He leads the line well and it’s not hard to see why the coach starts him, the fact is in modern football, the job of the center forward isn’t simply solely about finishing alone (Look at the work of Benzema for Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid to get the picture we’re painting). However, with all that said, Breel Embolo offers way more than Seferovic. He’s more powerful, he’s faster, he’s more of a threat to opposing defenses and the way other teams play him shows that, he’s very unpredictable and it’s that unpredictability that seems to keep him behind Seferovic in the pecking order. Plus the small matter of fact that Breel also misses his share of chances and has in fact only scored thrice for La Nati in over 20 games.

GAME by GAME (v Brazil, v Serbia, v Costa Rica)

*Keys to Brazil game: Will the Swiss cope with the movement of Brazil’s front 3 or 4? Can the midfield deal with the threat of Brazil’s wingbacks without losing shape? Will Granit Xhaka excel despite being pressed? Can the Swiss survive conceding first?
Prediction: Brazil are going to take some stopping at this World Cup. In 2010, the Swiss stunned a great Spanish side 1-0 in the group opener and failed to get out of the group. Brazil is not Spain, this Brazil side are not content to pass and win with low scoring landlordship of the ball, Brazil should win this going away.

*Keys to Serbia game: Will Alex Mitrovic be kept quiet? Will the Serbian passing game be made sterile? Can Xhaka exploit the space he will get in this game? Will the Swiss score enough goals and finish the chances they create?
Prediction: Serbia are a different kind of threat from Brazil, just the kind of threat this Swiss side love to handle. La Nati should ease to a comfortable win in this one.

*Keys to Costa Rica game: Can Bryan Ruiz’s influence be kept to a minimum? Can the Costa Ricans be drawn out of their shell? Will the Swiss take advantage of their chances while limiting the chances for Costa Rica to break forward?
Prediction: Four years ago the Costa Ricans were the toast of football neutrals all over as they got to the last 8 of the World Cup with a total masterful display of how to play the 5-4-1 /5-3-2 formation. This time they’re less of a surprise and arguably not as well coached. The Swiss should be able to get a win here.

swiss national team coach

Vladimir Petkovic

Here’s the possible Swiss Roster for Russia 2018
GOALKEEPERS (3): Yann Sommer, Roman Burki, Marwin Hitz

DEFENDERS (8): Ricardo Rodriguez, Manuel Akanji, Fabian Schar, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Michael Lang, Johan Djourou, Timm Klose, Francois Moubandje

MIDFIELDERS (8): Valon Behrami, Denis Zakaria, Granit Xhaka, Steven Zuber, Xherdan Shaqiri, Blerim Dzemaili, Remo Freuler, Admir Mehmedi

FORWARDS (4): Haris Seferovic, Breel Embolo, Josip Drmic, Mario Gavranovic

Piece by Tise Okuo, frequent Center Circle writer, a recovering fan of Arsenal FC and lover of football.


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