- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

GENEVA (AP) - Switzerland is looking to break out of its major tournament habits in France next June.

For the past two decades, Switzerland has failed to advance from any European Championship group in three attempts and routinely exits the World Cup in the first knockout round.

Consistent or consistently predictable?

Swiss fans have too often regretted chances not taken and the national media has written of a “Little Switzerland” mentality.

Now, with an expanded 24-team format for Euro 2016 creating an easier group-stage passage, a round of 16 place is the least of Swiss ambitions.



A quarterfinals spot should be within range for a team well established in the FIFA rankings top 20, and as No. 10 in Europe by the UEFA rankings, which counts only competitive matches.

Switzerland’s qualifying route was typically efficient, including seven wins against lower-ranked teams.

Still, old failings showed again in home-and-away 2-0 losses against a top-seeded opponent, this time England.

Switzerland has a core of players who grew up together - at Basel or as Under-17 World Cup winners in 2009 - and seems ready for prime time. But they said something similar a decade ago.

Here is a look at three key players and the coach, Vladimir Petkovic:

___

XHERDAN SHAQIRI - Still aged only 24, Shaqiri to have been in this slot for a long time.

Shaqiri has already been to two World Cups, played for two of Europe’s biggest clubs and has a Champions League winner’s medal.

Yet there is a nagging sense of unfulfilled potential about the stocky little playmaker.

Perhaps he did leave Basel a year too soon, and his time at Bayern Munich is perhaps summed up by the fact he watched the 2013 Champions League final as an unused substitute.

Shaqiri moved to the Premier League this season though not with Liverpool, where he was often linked, but Stoke.

If that seemed a step down, Shaqiri can at least regain the star status he deservedly had at Basel.

A total of 17 goals in 51 national team matches includes a hat trick in a 3-0 win against Honduras in Brazil last year.

Shaqiri’s time could yet arrive at his first European Championship.

___

RICARDO RODRIGUEZ - In a talented generation of maturing Swiss players, Rodriguez is perhaps the most wanted by Europe’s leading clubs.

He is tall and powerful for a left-back, combining attacking flair with defensive solidity.

Now in his fifth season at Wolfsburg, the 23-year-old Rodriguez is mixing with the elite in the Champions League knockout rounds this season.

It is said of Switzerland that it always seems one world-class central defender short of breaking through on the world stage.

With Rodriguez and Juventus right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner, they are well served on the flanks.

___

BREEL EMBOLO - The teenage Basel forward is an intriguing prospect who might not start matches in France, but could make an impact in finishing them.

Embolo will be 19 by the time Euro 2016 kicks off. By then he might have added to a long list of the perennial Swiss champion’s successful homegrown exports.

Born in Cameroon, the rangy Embolo came to Switzerland as a young boy and pledged his loyalty to his adopted home nation.

After impressing in the Champions League group stage last year, his Swiss passport application was rushed through as Cameroon sought his allegiance.

Embolo will not be unknown to opponents in France but his raw talent could be a decisive surprise.

___

COACH VLADIMIR PETKOVIC - Few national team coaches have had a day job outside football like Petkovic.

In a long coaching apprenticeship in quiet corners of the Swiss league, Petkovic worked for a religious charity in the Italian-speaking region.

The Bosnian-Croat has spent most of his playing and coaching career in Switzerland. An impressive spell establishing Young Boys as a serious rival to Basel eventually earned him a job at Lazio.

His timing was right, winning an Italian Cup trophy months before Ottmar Hitzfeld announced his plan to retire after the 2014 World Cup.

When Austria coach Marcel Koller declined an offer to come home, Petkovic got the Switzerland job.

Petkovic has not fully won over his doubters and a media-led debate about a true Swiss-German identity in a multinational squad never seems far away.

A quarterfinals place in France would settle that score.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide