Switzerland know they face stiff competition in Group E at the 2018 World Cup, with tournament co-favourites Brazil expected to win the group and Serbia and Costa Rica providing competition for the other qualifying spot.
Stephan Lichsteiner (Arsenal)
Despite having won their first nine matches in qualifying, Switzerland only reached the World Cup after squeaking through a play-off against Northern Ireland courtesy of a disputed penalty decision.
Ricardo Rodriguez’s penalty in the first leg in Belfast was the only goal of the two-legged tie, sealing Switzerland’s World Cup place in controversial circumstances – perhaps an unfair conclusion after a storming campaign.
Having beaten European champions Portugal 2-0 in their opening game in Group B, Switzerland were on course for Russia until the final group game, when their nine-match winning run was ended by Portugal – the European champions finishing top of Group B on goal difference as a result.
After failing to qualify in both 1998 and 2002, Switzerland have been at three consecutive tournaments (this will be their fourth) since. In 2006 and 2014 they reached the last-16 before being defeated – eventual runners-up Argentina requiring extra time to beat them last time out.
In between, they beat Spain 1-0 in their opening group game in South Africa in 2010 but then fell away as they ultimately finished third in the group with four points from three games.
Strikers Eren Derdiyok and Admir Mehmedi were the most notable omissions from the Swiss squad, while defender Timm Klose and Basel midfielder Fabian Frei also missed out despite earning places in the initial longlist. Xherdan Shaqiri missed the friendlies against Greece and Panama in March but slots back in for the World Cup, keen to put the disappointment of Stoke’s Premier League relegation behind him. With no injury worries, Switzerland will travel to Russia with a full-strength squad, which means Arsenal-bound Stephan Lichsteiner should win his 100th cap this summer.
Having completed his transfer to Arsenal, captain Stephan Lichsteiner will lead a defensive line that kept two clean sheets against Northern Ireland to book their World Cup spot. In midfield, Blerim Dzemaili scored in both the friendly wins against Greece and Panama in March, while Xherdan Shaqiri’s return will see him look to add to his 20 international goals.
D W W D W
Switzerland’s defeat to Portugal in the final round of fixtures was the only game they did not win in their World Cup qualification group and yet it was enough to cost them top spot. In the play-offs, Ricardo Rodriguez’s controversial penalty was the only goal of the tie over the two legs, and Switzerland followed that up by defeating Greece 1-0 and Panama 6-0 in their two friendlies in March. Rodriguez was then in the goals again as the Swiss stepped up their World Cup preparations with a 1-1 draw with Spain in Villarreal and added another in a 2-0 win against Japan – Haris Seferovic scored the other.
1 – Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach) – Age 29 – 35 caps/0 goals
12 – Yvon Mvogo (RB Leipzig) – Age 23 – 0 caps/0 goals
21 – Roman Burki (Borussia Dortmund – Age 27 – 9 caps/0 goals
2 – Stephan Lichsteiner (Arsenal) – Age 34 – 100 caps/8 goals
3 – Francois Moubandje (Toulouse) – Age 27 – 18 caps/0 goals
4 – Nico Elvedi (Borussia Monchengladbach) – Age 21 – 6 caps/0 goals
5 – Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund) – Age 22 – 7 caps/0 goals
6 – Michael Lang (Basel) – Age 27 – 24 caps/2 goals
13 – Ricardo Rodriguez (Milan) – Age 25 – 53 caps/5 goals
20 – Johan Djourou (Antalyaspor) – Age 31 – 74 caps/2 goals
22 – Fabian Schar (Deportivo La Coruna) – Age 26 – 39 caps/7 goals
8 – Remo Freuler (Atalanta) – Age 26 – 10 caps/0 goals
10 – Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) -Age 25 – 62 caps/9 goals
11 – Valon Behrami (Udinese) – Age 33 – 79 caps/2 goals
14 – Steven Zuber (1899 Hoffenheim) – Age 26 – 12 caps/3 goals
15 – Blerim Dzemaili (Bologna) – Age 32 – 65 caps/9 goals
16 – Gelson Fernandes (Eintracht Frankfurt) – Age 31 – 67 caps/2 goals
17 – Denis Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach) – Age 21 – 10 caps/0 goals
23 – Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City) – Age 26 – 70 caps/20 goals
7 – Breel Embolo (Schalke 04) – Age 21 – 25 caps/3 goals
9 – Haris Seferovic (Benfica) – Age 26 – 51 caps/12 goals
18 – Mario Gavranovic (Dinamo Zagreb) – Age 28 – 14 caps/5 goals
19 – Josip Drmic (Borussia Monchengladbach) – Age 25 – 29 caps/9 goals
Switzerland were excellent in World Cup qualifying, until they lost their final match against Portugal. That forced them into the play-offs, but they overcame two tricky ties to progress and ensure their nine group wins did not go to waste.
That form should be cause for optimism for Switzerland, particularly when coupled with their 6-0 drubbing of fellow World Cup-bound nation Panama in March’s friendly.
They are evens to qualify from Group E, narrow favourites ahead of Serbia to finish second behind Brazil, and realistically their match in Kaliningrad will be crucial. The Swiss are narrow favourites at 2/1 to win that match. With the experience of Stephan Lichsteiner leading the defence, and the likes of Premier League players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri in midfield, they certainly have the quality to live up to that billing.
With Brazil expected to win Group E, a group forecast of 1st – Brazil, 2nd – Switzerland is a good bet at 7/4 with Bet365.
Should the Swiss qualify in second, however, they will probably face Germany in the second round – the defeat to Portugal highlighted the difference between the Swiss and the really top European nations, and a second-round exit for Switzerland is 2/1 with Bet365.
A shaky play-off performance against Northern Ireland should not distract from the fact Switzerland were one of the best teams in European qualifying and just unlucky to be in a tough group with Portugal. They are very capable of reaching the second round, but a potential tie with Germany awaits them there.
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Complete list of 32 teams participating in World Cup 2018 and their Group Predictions