During the course of UEFA EURO 2020 we will be taking a closer look at each of our opponents. On Saturday, the action finally gets underway as Cymru take on Switzerland at the Olympic Stadium in Baku (2pm). Here's all you need to know about the Swiss.
Switzerland's best performance at the finals of a major tournament was achieved way back in 1954 when the country hosted the World Cup finals. Reaching the quarter-finals that time, subsequent generations failed to deliver on a consistent basis, until now. The side reached the knock-out stages at three of the last four World Cup finals, and achieved their best EURO finish in 2016 by reaching the round of 16.
There is a real determination within this group to build on these performances this summer with the majority of the current squad now in their prime. Petković has developed a talented group of players that are well-drilled into his tactical system, while players like Xherdan Shaqiri embrace the creative freedom offered in the final third. Switzerland scored 19 goals during their EURO 2020 qualifying campaign that were shared between 15 different players. Meanwhile, their three-man defence remains disciplined and organised.
EURO appearances: 4 (1996, 2004, 2008, 2016)
Best finish: R16 (2016)
- Name: Vladimir Petković
- Age: 57
- Nationality: Bosnian
Petković played as a journeyman midfielder at various professional levels for clubs in both Yugoslavia and Switzerland, and began his coaching career with Swiss side Bellinzona in 1997. As a coach he enjoyed success with Young Boys between 2008 and 2011, and in 2012 he was appointed manager of Italian side Lazio. Winning the Coppa Italia in his first season, Petković was appointed manager of Switzerland in 2014 and has proved instrumental in reviving the fortunes of the nation as they reached the knock-out stages of EURO 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
- Name: Granit Xhaka
- Age: 28
- Club: Arsenal (England)
- Position: Midfielder
Joined Arsenal in 2016 following his move from Borussia Monchengladbach, Xhaka has made over 200 appearances for the London club as he quickly closes in on a century of international appearances for his country. A combative figure in midfield, Xhaka suits the style of Petković's tactical approach as he looks for his side to win the ball quickly and retain possession. Xhaka also qualified for Albania, but opted for Switzerland having progressed through the intermediate ranks and has been a senior international since 2011.
Switzerland first qualified for the EURO finals in 1996, but failed to make it out of their group with two defeats and a draw from their three games. The same situation occurred in 2004 and 2008, although it was during the latter tournament that they claimed their first victory with a 2-0 victory over group winners Portugal. The side failed to qualify for EURO 2012, but progressed through the group stages in 2016 for the first time as an opening day victory over Albania in Lens was followed by draws against Romania and France. However, a penalty shoot-out defeat to Poland followed at the knock-out stage after playing out a 1-1 draw.
How they qualified
Qualifying for EURO 2020 as the winners of Group D, Switzerland lost just one game during the course of the campaign as they were defeated 1-0 to runners-up Denmark in Copenhagen. However, with five victories from their eight games and conceding just six goals in the process, proving difficult to beat was ultimately key to their qualifying success. Switzerland ended the campaign with three straight victories to finish above Denmark by a single point.
Despite an underwhelming UEFA Nations League campaign in which Switzerland only narrowly avoided relegation, manager Vladimir Petković clearly went back to basics this year. Winning all five games played so far in 2021, Switzerland have claimed World Cup qualifying victories over Bulgaria and Lithuania, while friendly wins over Finland, United States and Liechtenstein delivered 12 goals in those three games alone. The side head into EURO 2020 with confidence and belief, with the concerns over their Nations League results very much in the past.
There is a bravery associated with Petković's team that encourages players to take control of the game with an emphasis on possession and a fearless approach to attacking, regardless of the quality of the opposition. While his tactical system remains flexible with variations of 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 based on the opposition and availability of key players, the three-man defence is a consistent within his system that does not tend to change.
Intriguingly, both Switzerland and Cymru are likely to play with very similar tactical systems on Saturday. With an emphasis on attacking wide players, the presence of two sitting midfielders and two inside forwards supporting a central figure in attack, both teams have displayed a very similar approach in recent fixtures, and are unlikely to implement any radical tactical changes for the opening match.
“Players like Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and goalkeeper Yann Sommer have been shaping the team for a long time. Haris Seferović and Ricardo Rodríguez are also undisputed regulars. The Swiss national team has become a regular at major tournaments. Even though we are a small country with manageable resources, since EURO 2004, the only finals we have not qualified for was EURO 2012. But one major goal has not been achieved so far - the quarter-finals. Players, coaches and spectators are longing for a place in the quarter-finals. That is the big goal.” - Peter Birrer, Swiss football journalist.
A moment in history – Switzerland at the 1994 World Cup
Under the guidance of Englishman Roy Hodgson, Switzerland achieved their highest-ever position in the FIFA world rankings in August 1993 as the side moved up to third place. Hodgson would lead the nation to the 1994 World Cup in the USA the following summer, their first appearance at the finals of the competition since 1966.
The first match had seen Switzerland hold the United States to a 1-1 draw after Georges Bregy had handed them the lead. Stéphane Chapuisat was the key player for Switzerland during that era of success, and he was on target as Hodgson's side defeated the talented Romanian team 4-1 in their second group game of the tournament. Alain Sutter and a brace from Adrian Knup ensured that Switzerland would produce one of the results and the performances of the finals against a Romanian side inspired by the great Gheorghe Hagi.
Despite a 2-0 defeat to Columbia in the final group game, Switzerland qualified for the knock-out stages as runners-up behind Romania, but their tournament would come to an end in Washington as Spain claimed a convincing 3-0 win over Hodgson's surprise package. “The '94 World Cup was a great experience,” the manager reflected in 2014. “I think it was very new to us at the time, because Switzerland hadn't qualified for a tournament for almost 30 years, and they hadn't expected to either.”
Record v Cymru
Switzerland have won five of the seven previous meetings between the two nations, although Cymru won the most-recent fixture 2-0 in October 2011 when Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale scored the goals for the side in Swansea. The first meeting was back in 1949 when Switzerland claimed a comfortable 4-0 win in Berne, but Cymru claimed revenge in May 1951 when Trevor Ford scored a brace in Wrexham in a 3-2 victory. Switzerland's biggest win against Cymru was in October 2010, as the side managed by Ottmar Hitzfeld claimed a 4-1 victory in Basel.