Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughSwitzerland - the next Belgium? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Switzerland - the next Belgium? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Switzerland – the next Belgium?

Much publicity has been given to Belgium and the genuinely breathtaking talent, young and old, that runs throughout their side as they impressively charge towards the 2014 World Cup. However, another side brimming with young talent has slipped under the radar somewhat.

Switzerland have never been associated with exciting football. Workman-like? Yes. Committed? Yes. Efficient? Yes. Attractive? No. Indeed, the Swiss have been responsible for some very forgettable appearances at major tournaments of late and indeed have played their part in some of the worst games in modern international tournament history. Remember Switzerland 0-0 Croatia at Euro 2004? Or Switzerland 0-0 France at World Cup 2006? Or Switzerland 0-0 Ukraine at the same tournament? Or Switzerland 0-0 Honduras at World Cup 2010? No, us neither.

However, under Ottmar Hitzfeld, Switzerland have dispensed with the rather decrepit and ageing line up that took the field at the last World Cup and instead prioritised a new generation of young talent, based on the Under-21 side that reached the final of the European Championships in 2011 only to lose to Spain, and the Basel side that shocked Manchester United in the Champions League last season.

In goal, the Swiss continue to call upon the reliable Diego Benaglio but in reserve they have potentially the most exciting young keeper in Europe in Yann Sommer. The defence contains the experience of Stephan Liechtsteiner, currently marauding down Juventus’ right-flank, Johan Djourou, who remains only 25 and the usually consistent for his country Philippe Senderos, while at left back, Wolfsburg’s 20-year-old Ricardo Rodriguez looks a star of the future.

However, the central European’s real talent comes in midfield. Marshalling the central area is imperious skipper Gokhan Inler, who gained such rave reviews at the last World Cup and is currently at one of the most exciting sides in Italian football in Napoli. Accompanying him in the middle of the park is the quite wonderful Granit Xhaka. After coming to the fore against Manchester United for Basel last season, the young playmaker made the move to German club Borussia Monchengladbach and has already impressed in this season’s Bundlesliga. Xhaka has a languid style and often looks lackadaisical at times but on the ball, his range of passing and ability to dictate the tempo is match-winning influence.

The two central midfielders are flanked by the experienced Tranquilo Barnetta, currently plying his trade at Champions League outfit Schalke 04 while on the opposing flank, Hitzfeld can call on the bright young hope of Swiss football, Xherdan Shaqiri. The Kosovo-born starlet tormented both Man Utd and the entire Swiss league last season, scoring 14 goals a year after he was named in the Under-21 European Championship’s team of the tournament. His performances earned Shaqiri a move to Bundesliga heavyweights Bayern Munich where he has already kept Arjen Robben on the bench at times, impressing with his speed, trickery and dribbling skills. Shaqiri is the poster-boy for this young Swiss outfit and there remains little down that the wideman will eventually become one of the best players in Europe.

Up front, Switzerland have lacked a regular goalscorer since the departures of Stephane Chapuisat and Alexander Frei from the international scene. It does seem as if Eren Derdiyok at 24 has been dubbed the “new” Chapuisat for an extremely long time, particularly when you consider he made his goalscoring debut for his country against England back in 2008. Indeed, the forward has only added six to that tally in  42 appearances since that cold February night. However, Derdiyok has hit double figures in each of his last three seasons in the Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen and has already scored three times for his new club Hoffenheim. Perhaps at the age of 24, the change in scenery is just what the striker needs.

So where are the weaknesses in this supposedly brilliant Switzerland side that are set to become one of the powerhouses in European football? Well firstly, the undoubted problem is depth. While Switzerland’s first XI may be capable of testing the very best, the question remains what happens when say Xhaka or Shaqiri gets injured, as young players often do? Do the likes of Valon Behrami or Gelson Fernandes offer the same quality in reserve? Similarly up front, Derdiyok may have his doubters but if he is not the man to lead the attack, then who? Nassim Ben Khalifa and Mario Gavranovic may offer youthful promise but remain vastly inexperienced, even compared to the likes of Xhaka and Shaqiri who have played Champions League football.

The Guardian’s Paul Doyle has been very forthright with his belief in this promising Switzerland side and undoubtedly the talent is there for the nation to make a real impact on the international stage for the first time since reaching the Quarter Finals on home soil back in 1954.

Adam Mazrani