Switzerland: Yakin the key man for surprise qualifiers
Monday 01 December 2003
Few neutrals would have expected Switzerland to emerge ahead of either Russia or the Republic of Ireland from their qualifying group. Winning it therefore gave some credence to manager Kobi Kuhn's assertion that his side did not simply profit from underperforming rivals and that Swiss football is on the up.
Hakan Yakin, an elegant midfielder of Turkish origin and the brother of defender Murat, could be the key to an unlikely advancement to the knock-out phase next summer. A tormentor of both Liverpool and Celtic in Europe for FC Basel over the last couple of seasons, he favours a withdrawn role tucked in behind a front pairing but is capable of scoring goals as well as making them.
Ahead of Hakan, a partnership of Stephane Chapuisat and Alexander Frei will go to Portugal with respective aims of bowing out in style and making a splash on the international stage. Chapuisat, 34, one of the icons of the Swiss game, now plays for Young Boys Berne but spent his best years at Borussia Dortmund, with whom he won the Champions League in 1997. He played for Switzerland at the 1994 World Cup and at Euro 96, where his side held Terry Venables' England to a 1-1 draw in the opening fixture.
No longer prolific, he still poses a threat when Yakin makes space or diverts defenders' attention. Frei, a decade younger, has struggled to score for his club side, Rennes, but has made amends for his country, averaging a goal every other game in qualifying and two against Russia.
Kuhn will need to choose between one of two main goalkeepers. Jorg Stiel has been favoured recently although Pascal Zuberbuhler will be in contention. A mostly resilient central defensive pairing of Murat Yakin and Patrick Muller have edged Stephane Henchoz out of the equation but the Liverpool man offers another option. This might become necessary if Kuhn is worried about the incumbents' form come the summer. Switzerland will be vulnerable to pace at the back and showed in their only qualifying defeat - 4-1 to Russia - that when things go wrong they tend to go badly wrong.
Kuhn usually protects his back line by deploying PSV Eindhoven's Johann Vogel in a midfield holding role, which allows attack-minded midfielders such as Hamburg's Raphael Wicky to push forward.
POSSIBLE FIRST-CHOICE LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Stiel (Borussia Monchengladbach); Haas (West Brom), Muller (Lyon), M Yakin (FC Basle), Spycher (Grasshoppers); Vogel (PSV Eindhoven), Wicky (SV Hamburg), Huggel (FC Basle); H Yakin (FC Basle); Chapuisat (Young Boys), Frei (Rennes).
Coach: Kobi Kuhn.
Record v England: P18 W3 D4 L11 F15 A42.
Last three v England: England 3 Switzerland 1 (Wembley 1995, F); England 1 Switzerland 1 (Wembley 1996); Switzerland 1 England 1 (Berne 1998, F).
Recent record in EC finals: 1980 DNQ; 1984 DNQ; 1988 DNQ; 1992 DNQ; 1996 R1; 2000 DNQ.
Best performance in EC finals: 1996 R1.
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