Swiss football (World Cup 2018)

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Swiss football

Switzerland host the headquarters of FIFA and UEFA, and therefore is the centre of the administrative part of the game.

Swiss football is a form of Germanic football, just as the Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Iceland, the Netherlands, and Germany. Most closely Swiss football probably resembles German football. Hard work and tackles in defence and in the midfield, which means more room for the technical attacking midfielders to do their thing, and then big striker up front.

The difference between the German and Swiss 4-2-3-1 is that the Germans with more technically gifted players have a bit less focus on physicality in the 2 central midfielders. Khedira is simply a level over Behrami and Kroos over Xhaka in the technical game.

The reason for this is that Switzerland are expecting to not dominate all their matches, and therefore often have to have a wall of 6 physical players at the back, where the midfield aids the defence mostly. For Germany, they expect to dominate games, retain position, and need players, who are more play-makers, than play-breakers (especially Behrami). Also Dzemaili on the attacking midfield is no Özil, but as with the Nordic countries, then there is a well organised unit, which can be really hard to break.

Where do the Swiss play?

Historically the Swiss mostly played in German football, and the team was often dominated by German speakers. This is still the case today. Gladbach has a significant colony with 4 players, while Dortmund has 2, Leipzig 1, Schalke 1, Hoffenheim 1, and Frankfurt 1. All in all 10 players in the Bundesliga.

1 plays in the Swiss league, which can be a bit of a surprise as the Swiss league is normally not so bad. Especially FC Basel, who has that one player.

5 play in Italy (Juventus, Milan, Atalanta, Bologna, and Udinese), but neither seem to be Italian-Swiss. 2 in England (Arsenal and Stoke), 1 for Toulouse in France, 1 for La Coruña in Spain, 1 for Benfica in Portugal, 1 for Antalyaspor in Turkey, and 1 for Dynamo Zagreb in Croatia.

Political influence and national narrative

Now it has become norm for European national teams to have players all over the continent, but Switzerland is a bit different. In the France article we mentioned the role of immigration and football, but there is no country in Europe as open to immigration as Switzerland, and that is evident in their national team. 7 out of 11 starters against Serbia have dual citizenship. 15 out of the 23 in the whole squad do as well.

At Euro 2008 Hakan Yakin brought Switzerland ahead against Turkey and celebrated the goal. Something which was no popular in Turkey, as Yakin was of Turkish origin. It cause controversy in football in general, as it highlighted the potential dual allegiance of players, who could choose which nation to play for. Something which is becoming more and more normal in a globalising world.

And during this World Cup Switzerland faced Serbia in the likely most politically charged game of the tournament. This is because the Swiss starting 11 included 3 Kosovar, 1 Macedonian, and 1 Bosniak, while 2 Croatians also came in from the bench, which is managed by a Bosniak. All of them of course also Swiss.

Serbia got ahead, but ended up losing to two goals from Kosovar players, who in their celebration with hands created the symbolic eagle of Albania. Something that in no way reduced tensions, and Serbia was denied a obvious penalty as well, which perfectly feed the Serbian narrative of being cheated out of their territory and victories. A lot of old bad blood resurfaced, and also from the Swiss perspective as their players where celebrating a foreign nation.

Now, all football fans agree that sports and politics should be separate. But nations and countries are political entities. National team games are competitions with a political undertone. Political symbolism is banned, but national anthems and flags are just as much political symbols as cultural symbols. And in a modern world, where half the national team might not just be of your nationality, then motivations differ.

Petkovic clearly used these motivations to his advantage. Is this okay? Well, football and politics has always been connected. Just look at the Spanish 2 top clubs. Or back to the Serbian narrative and their team. As mentioned in the England article, football is the proper arena to settle our differences, not violence or war. Hopefully one day this will also be the established standard in the Balkans, but until that day, then Switzerland plays surrogate to the small nation of Kosovo in their desire to challenge Serbian dominance. And no matter where you stand in that conflict, then the fact that this happens on the football pitch, instead of on a battlefield, should be something to celebrate.

Bad memories might be rekindled, but this has to happen from time to time, so the option of reconciliation can be tested. For some peace is just a chance to reinforce and resupply your army, therefore true peace only exists, when 2 nations can play a friendly game of football without hatred. But instead with jokes and banter. Such as France and Germany. The eternal rivals of Europe are today friends and partners. One day that might also be the case for Serbia and Kosovo, but we will only know, when we get to a day, where they can play each other in a friendly game of football without hatred, violence, booing of national anthems, and other forms of disrespect.

This is why football is so important in European culture. And the separation from politics might be limited, but we try to maintain it anyway. Politics is the brutal reality of the everyday condition, football is the 2 hours of liberating anarchy, where we can show our true selves. No matter what and who we are.

Group and expectations

Switzerland surprised many by drawing against Brazil in their opening game. As mentioned before they beat Serbia, and can now safely decide their own fate.

In the final game Switzerland play Costa Rica. The lost 1-0 to Serbia and 2-0 to Brazil, but in both games held very well for a long time. It might prove difficult for the Swiss football team to score, but Costa Rica have also not scored yet. And Switzerland are through with a point.

In the other group game Serbia need to beat Brazil to go through, or draw and hope Costa Rica beats Switzerland by 2 (leading to Serbia having the better goal-score). Brazil needs a draw against Serbia to be through, and as Brazil is a very demanding football nation, then a draw might be good enough to go through, but it is not going to be good enough for the Brazilian fans. So likely even if Switzerland lose, then they are likely still through.

Looking to group F, which Switzerland’s group is being paired with, then they will likely face Mexico or Germany, and with Mexico likely to finish top, then ending up as first or second in the group is not of paramount importance. However, it would still be a unwise gamble for Switzerland to take it easy and play too many reserves against Costa Rica. Costa Rica might not have scored yet, but if they do not get that goal, then they go home from the World Cup completely empty-handed. So you might see a more motivated Costa Rica squad, than the Swiss. And you never know with Serbia.

Against Mexico or Germany, then Switzerland are not going to be the favourite. They will throughout the knock-out stage be the underdog. And that can be something to exploit. Teams might ignore the fact that that have a strong unit and players, who have played together for many years. If they can avoid the worst of injuries to key players, then Switzerland can surprise. Just like any other European team at the World Cup.


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