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Thursday, June 12, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Team Runthrough Thread #1 For 6/12/14: #9 Switzerland

Photo from Fresh Focus

Projected Formation 

                               Benalio 

Lichtsteiner  - Schar   - von Bergen - Rodriguez 

                      Inler       - Behrami

Shaqiri                      Xhaka                 Mehmedi 

                                Drmic 

Key Bench Options: Dzemaili, Barnetta, Seferovic, Ziegler, Senderos, Djourou, Gavranovic     

The Runthrough   

This Switzerland side may go down as the most disrespected seeded teams ever in a World Cup. Most are picking France to top Group E by a good margin, and that is after the departure of Franck Ribery was made certain.  Even more of a slap to the face of Ottmar Hitzfeld's side is the fact that a good bit of experts are picking Ecuador to progress with France out of the group. 

Where all these skeptics have been on watching the Swiss be so impressive in the qualifying stage is beyond this writer, as they certainly have a side that could really be the surprise of the entire tournament. More experienced than the fancied "outsiders" Belgium and Colombia, the days of record goal scorer Alex Frei and Marco Streller maybe gone. But in has come a fine golden generation of talent mixed in with established veterans primed to make their mark this time around after being a bit too in transition to qualify for Euro 2012.  

Truly as indicative of the overlooked quality of this team, La Nati has the most underrated fullback pairing in the tournament. Stephen Lichtsteiner may not have many global endorsement deals like a Dani Alves, but he has massive global respect as truly one of the class right backs in the world. Four years ago, Lichtsteiner solidified his reputation by being one of key performers in his country's 1-0 victory over eventual world champions Spain. Since then, the 30-year-old has become a sterling figure in Juventus' recent domination of Italian football and can claim a spot as the best in his position bar Philip Lahm.  

Lichtsteiner is at least now a know player to the casual global fan, but his counterpart on the otherside may not be. Make no mistake however, Wolfsburg's Ricardo Rodriguez is a name that if you don't know now will certainly be stuck in your head for a long while. Simply put, Rodriguez is the best leftback in the Bundesliga, even more than Bayern Munich's Austrian wondered David Alaba. Natural at his position, Rodriguez combines the modern day offensive element of the full back with the positional defending required of an elite performer at his spot. Rodriguez's left foot is also potent at delivering class set pieces and final through balls like a de facto #10 and will certainly stamp his place as one of the world's best if he wins his battles against the likes of Antonie Grizemann and Jefferson Montero. 

The only question at the back for Switzerland is who will be the partner of another golden generation force in 22-year-old Fabian Schar, who looks set to depart Basel this summer like his teammate Valentin Stocker has done (more on him later). Philippe Senderos never became the centerback he was touted to be and is in decline at 29, finding time hard to come by at Premier League strugglers Aston Villa. The same can be said of fellow once bright Arsenal prospect Johan Djourou, thought to be a stalwart in defense for years to come at the Emirates with Senderos. Instead Djourou is a backup on a major side at best and won't get the start either. 

Schar's partner in the end looks set to be 31-year-old Young Old Boys man Steve von Bergen, who has fine experience in the Bundesliga and Serie A but is seemingly on the decline in this career. If von Bergen can be as steady and aware at any times when teams center on him to attack, Switzerland will truly be a darkhorse side. Wolfsburg longtime standout goalkeeper Diego Benaglio will have to keep young Schar and von Bergen in constant alertness at all times. 

The midfield is the strength of Hitzfeld side and will be lead by captain Gokhan Inler, as this is his best chance to shine at a World Cup after another solid season with Napoli. The box to box midfielder with the fine powerful left foot will likely be joined in midfield by one of his Napoli central midfield partners, with the tireless Valon Behrami likely getting the nod over Blerim Dzemaili despite the latter having a better season. Either way, Inler will have great continuity with both Behrami and Dzemaili by being one of the rare central midfield pairings in the tournament who train with each other on a daily. 

Thanks to the center of the park being solidified, it adds to the cunning characteristics of the attacking options on display with former Basel prodigies Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri being the top gems. Both for the past few seasons have had their share of highlights in the Bundesliga and represent the heart and soul of this rising young nucleus part of the team. Although Xhaka will never be mistaken for as a true playmaker, the Glabach property has all the qualities of being a complete midfielder. It's why his former coach Thorsten Fink dubbed him as "the young Schweinsteiger" and more talented than his longtime friend Shaqiri, who truly could be dubbed the "young Robben."

It's fitting that Shaqiri is the understudy at Bayern Munich to the Dutch superstar, as the 22-year-old has that same electric pace and deadly left foot that you don't want to let him operate on. While those two golden boys have gotten all the billing, another Basel developed property could steal all the goal creating and scoring elements from them in the smooth Stocker. The 25-year-old completed a move away from the Swiss giants to Hertha Berlin before the tournament, and like most German clubs before the start of a major tournament, they may a sensationally shrewd buy before the price goes up. Stocker may not have the pace of Shaqiri, but he has fine control of the ball and a great ability to deliver the cutting edge final pass. 

Most critics however feel that the main problem with the Swiss side is that they don't have the all out striker who can be the man in the box to finish like Alex Frei. But those critics have not been paying close attention to the Bundesliga this season as two rising forces joined Xhaka and Shaqiri as super talents in this Swiss side, 21-year-old Josip Drmic and 23-year-old Admir Mehmedi. Unlike the aforementioned Basel developed duo, both Drmic and Mehmedi are products of rivals Zurich FC. Both clubs can continue their long time duels on the field with a discussion off the field on which of their talents turned out to be the better players for years to come. That's just how good Drmic and Mehmedi are. 

After a modest move to Nurnberg last summer, Drmic exploded on the screen to become by far the best thing in a forgettable season for the relegated club. Showing good pace, great dribbling 
touch and a lethal shot on both feet, Drmic finished the season third in the Bundesliga charts with 17 goals. It was so terrific that Bayer Leverkusen, just like Hertha Berlin did with Stocker, took advantage of Nurnberg needing to let go of the young player and signed him for next season right after the current campaign in May. It will prove to be a tremendous purchase by the famous pharmaceutical company as Drmic could be the breakout star of the entire tournament. 

Or that nod could certainly go to Mehmedi, who was overshadowed by Drmic's season but produced his own quality first league in the Bundesliga. Freiburg needed all of his 12 goals to avoid the fate that Drmic's Nurnberg received and has a bit more experience than his fellow precocious forward. Although he is better sited at playing off a target forward than Drmic's line leading #9 characteristics,  Mehmedi can be a direct playmaker and finisher with his quality passing ability and very good speed. 

The emergence of Drmic and Mehmedi could't have come at a better time for Hitzfeld after the massively disappointing season Haris Seferovic has had, along with the rapid decline of 25-year-old Eren Derdiyok, who was left off the final 23 despite his 8 goals in 46 caps. Drmic has replaced Derdiyok at Bayer for good reasons, while the 22-year-old Seferovic's promising start at Real Sociedad turned into a season where he was nowhere near a threat to Carlos Vela and Antoine Griezmann's places. 

Seferovic has fallen behind Zurick forward Mario Gavranovic in the picking order for Hitzfeld, but both are solid backup options. But both will be behind the soon to be three time World Cup playing winger Tranquillo Barnetta, who along with Benaglio, Senderos, Djourou, and Xhemaili represent the veteran voices of this side from their 2006 and 2010 squad selections. Although Barnetta is not the consistent player he use to be and likely will play a role in this side as a sub, he still can deliver a quality ball in and will be a vital late game option for Hitzfeld. 

The Swiss have been hearing for months now that Group E belongs to France and that they will be one of the European sides too pedestrian to deal with the Brazilian climate. But make no mistake that they do have the talent to not only top Group E, but be the complete surprises of the entire 32-team field. 

Under The Radar, Key Players: 


Drmic: A star making season in a dire year for his new club, the 21-year-old has all the technical qualities and ambitions to be a force that could make him a new talked about commodity globally. Bayern Leverkusen's intelligent gain is everybody else's loss. 
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