Switzerland cross the border to France this summer with the belief generations of failure at the European Championship can come to an end. For a small country so used to punching above their weight at the World Cup, their record in their own continent’s premier competition is pretty woeful.
They have only qualified for three tournaments, never progressing beyond the group stage. But a new dawn under coach Vladimir Petkovic brings promise. Several Swiss players are now household names across the world, with goalkeeper Yann Sommer, left-back Ricardo Rodriguez, right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner, centre midfielder Granit Xhaka and winger Xherdan Shaqiri at the forefront.
These players have been let off the leash by Petkovic after years of defensive-but-successful football under veteran boss Ottmar Hitzfeld. This new adventurous style should come in useful during a Group A which promises a tight battle to finish in the slots behind hosts France.
Albania conceded five goals and Romania only two during qualifying. The former – ranked 45th in the world by FIFA and first-time entrants – are up first on June 11, with the solid Romanians coming next. The June 15 fixture at the Parc des Princes seems decisive to hopes of finishing in the hallowed top two or securing one of the best third-placed slots.
They will not want to go into June 19’s match against Les Bleus needing to win the match. Switzerland have the potential to go well at Euro 2016, although a disappointing return in recent friendlies hints at problems for Petkovic. His is a squad which will need to perform to its absolute optimum to shake the chains of history and make a real impact for the first time.
Years of taking a back seat at the Euros look set to end under bold coach Petkovic. The Swiss were joint second top scorers during qualifying, level on 24 with heavyweights Germany and Belgium. They also possess serious talent in Rodriguez, Xhaka and Shaqiri. They are complemented by emerging Basel forward Breel Embolo, who could be a breakout star.
Switzerland finished a distant second to England in qualifying, who aren’t expected to excel. Despite a new licence to attack from their coach, the absence through injury of key striker Josip Drmic will be felt. Replacement Haris Seferovic only scored three times in the 2015/16 Bundesliga. The failure of Fabian Schar to kick on as expected highlights a lack of quality at centreback.
STAR MAN – GRANIT XHAKA
Arsenal supporters won’t be blamed for keeping a close eye on the central midfielder’s performances this summer. A £30 million (Dhs158.2m) switch from Borussia Monchengladbach has already been sealed. It is not difficult to see why the Gunners made their move. The Basel youth product possesses both a cultured left foot and iron will to win. A suspect disciplinary record is the only glaring weakness in his game. His partnership in the middle with Valon Behrami is key.
A free-scoring start against minnows Albania could spark something special, but history appears to be against them. This will be a real test. The last 16 is seen as the bare minimum, but could also be their ceiling.