Ottmar Hitzfeld was being mildly disingenuous yesterday when he said that he was not qualified to discuss Wayne Rooney's domestic traumas. "I'm no psychologist but, of course, such a thing like that will weigh on a player," the Switzerland coach said. "Though I expect [Fabio] Capello will let Wayne Rooney play because he's in great condition at the moment and a coach isn't going to pass on a player of his calibre."
It was while Hitzfeld was an amateur footballer here on the banks of the Rhine with FC Basle that he began his study of sports psychology. His gentle poke at England's prime concern was delivered with all the stealth of a vastly experienced coach – only three months Capello's junior and one of the few on the world stage who has achievements for the Italian to covet.
Hitzfeld is one of only three men, along with Ernst Happel and Jose Mourinho, who have won the European Cup with two different clubs, and his mastery of organisation – perhaps to be expected of an individual who also trained as a mathematics teacher – has made Switzerland's defence a formidable one.
Hitzfeld, whose Champions League glories with Borussia Dortmund in 1997 and Bayern Munich in 2001 might have been supplemented by a 1999 triumph had not Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer intervened late on for Manchester United against his Bayern side, created a national team which conceded only one goal in three group games in South Africa.
The famous 1-0 win over Spain in their opening match helped establish a new record of 559 minutes of World Cup action without conceding, while no goals have been shipped since the tournament either.
That is why Capello needs Rooney for probably England's toughest Group G game, in which he will not be given the freedom behind Jermain Defoe granted by the Bulgarians four days ago. Though the dire display from the Swiss in the 0-0 draw with Australia in St Gallen on Friday has made the dearth of goals a matter of national debate – there were jeers for the captain and record scorer Alexander Frei when he missed a penalty – the German coach's mind is clearly on frustrating Capello as he did Vicente del Bosque in Durban three months back.
"This is not the best day to be worrying about our scoring record," he said. "We want to win the game but England are the clear favourites. Total attacking to end the goal drought wouldn't be the right thing. We must try and find a balance between our performance against Spain, where we defended very well, and going forward."
Hitzfeld is desperately short of attacking flair. Gökhan Inler, whom Steven Gerrard was watching this summer because of Liverpool's link with him, and Tranquillo Barnetta hold possession well but it is a young forward line. The 22-year-old striker Eren Derdiyok, of Bayer Leverkusen, the attack's main asset, is still developing. The overriding selection problem relates to goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, who, to the apparent displeasure of Hitzfeld, has left the camp to be with his wife, who is about to give birth to their first child. The compromise solution is that Benaglio will be present at the team's 6pm meeting tonight provided there is no news from the labour ward. Rooney may not be the only man whose mind is elsewhere.
Two Swiss bankers – and one rising star
Age 31, striker (78 caps, 40 goals)
Vastly experienced captain who is the side's record goalscorer, but the Basle forward has not scored for his country in over a year, and is falling out of favour with the fans, who booed him on Friday after he missed a penalty in the goalless draw with Australia.
Age 26, midfielder (40 caps, 3 goals)
The tough Udinese midfielder is establishing himself as one of the best holding players in Europe and also possesses a great passing range, which has led to him being linked with moves to Barcelona, Internazionale and Liverpool.
Age 22, striker (25 caps, 2 goals)
At 6ft 3in he is a powerful striker who scored on his debut in a 2-1 defeat to England in February 2008 – Fabio Capello's first game in charge. Hit 12 goals in the Bundesliga last season for Bayer Leverkusen and is also capable at filling in as a centre-back.Reuse content