Swiss identify Rooney as not-so-secret weapon

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The Independent Online

Switzerland have identified Wayne Rooney as the principal source of danger when they play England tomorrow.

Switzerland have identified Wayne Rooney as the principal source of danger when they play England tomorrow.

While David Platt, recently sacked as England's Under-21 coach, watched the Swiss hold on for a grim goalless draw with 10 men in their opening game against Croatia, his former opposite number Bernard Challendes was on a spying visit at the Estadio da Luz.

Not surprisingly, his attention was drawn to the Everton striker rather than the anonymous Michael Owen before Sven Goran Eriksson substituted both of them in the final 20 minutes. "A very dangerous and interesting player," was Challendes' verdict. "For me Rooney is the big problem for Switzerland. It is very difficult to predict what he will do because he floats between the midfield and attack. It makes him hard to pick up."

When the Everton striker dropped deeper, that task would normally have fallen to the experienced holding midfielder Johann Vogel, but his soft red card against Croatia - brought about by a second yellow for kicking the ball away - means he will be have to be replaced by Marseille's Fabio Celestini.

The one weakness Challendes may have spotted was a temperamental one. Rooney might well have been booked against France for brushes with Claude Makelele and William Gallas, and is not the most difficult player to wind up, which the Swiss defenders Bernt Haas, of West Bromwich Albion, and Stephane Henchoz, of Liverpool, will doubtless be pointing out to their team-mates. Although Henchoz, a substitute for seven minutes on Sunday, is not expected to start, the teenager can expect to be tested by some juicy challenges.

The man Rooney must eventually get the ball past is literally twice his age. Switzerland's long-haired goalkeeper Jorg Stiel, 36, came late to International football, not making his debut until the age of 32. He wears lightly the responsibilities that go with being the national team's captain, refusing to take sport too seriously since his eyes were opened playing for a season amid the slums of Mexico City more than a decade ago.

"Football can be a little too uptight sometimes when really we are living a dream and playing for a result, not life or death," he said yesterday. "My most important job is not to concede any goals but if the chances comes along to make the fans laugh I will have some fun with them. I am not a clown, but I like to have fun and will do the same against England if I can. But then it is easy for me to be this way because there is no pressure."

"No pressure" is the mantra being chanted this week in all the languages of the Swiss camp. "It is all on the English team," added Stiel, who is looking for a Swiss club after leaving Borussia Mönchen -gladbach. "But they have a lot of great players who can handle it. We have no pressure so we have nothing to handle. If you lose a game in the last three minutes it's very shocking and they should not beat themselves up too much, because the performance the English players gave was very good."

Switzerland's softly-spoken coach Jakob "Kobi" Kuhn continued the theme of piling all the pressure on England's shoulders, while uncharacteristically trumpeting his creative midfielder Hakan Yakin of Stuttgart as someone "with a tiny piece of [Zinedine] Zidane's game in him."

"You never know what he will do next, he is a very naturally-gifted player," Kuhn added. "Of course, we are talking about the Swiss Zidane and not the real one but he can be our secret weapon."

Rooney, Hakin Yakin ... there are weapons in every camp at Euro 2004, but none remain secret very long.

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