swiss up the ante

HAMBURG - Switzerland, who have been solid but unspectacular at tournaments in recent years, could be a more serious threat under veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld at the World Cup.

HAMBURG - Switzerland, who have been solid but unspectacular at tournaments in recent years, could be a more serious threat under veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld at the World Cup.

Hitzfeld, one of the most successful coaches in club history, is a canny operator who knows football inside out and is a proven winner - at least at club level.

Hitzfeld succeeded the popular Jakob Kuhn, who had taken the Nati to Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup before standing down after failing to progress beyond the group stage at Euro 2008 as co-hosts.

After qualifying at the top of Group 2, following a shock home defeat to Luxembourg and ahead of Greece, Latvia, Israel, Luxembourg and Moldova, Hitzfeld has reached his first goal with aplomb.

He will see his main task in South Africa as again reaching the knockout stages.

Euro 2008 proved to be disappointing for the Swiss, who went out in the group stage, two years after they were eliminated in the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany without conceding a goal.

Going a round better in South Africa would be regarded as success for the Swiss, who have reached the quarterfinals three times, in 1934, 1938 and when the country hosted the event in 1954. There is a strong Bundesliga influence throughout the likely squad. It includes Wolfsburg's Diego Benaglio, Steve von Bergen of Hertha Berlin and Christoph Spycher of Eintracht Frankfurt. Switzerland feature with Spain, Honduras and Chile in Group H.

THE COACH:

Along with Ernst Happel, Hitzfeld, 60, is the only manager to win the European Cup or Champions League with two different clubs after victories with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.

He won seven Bundesliga titles and two Swiss league titles among 18 major trophies, making him one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game.

THE STAR:

Alexander Frei has returned to FC Basel, the club he played for as a youngster. Throughout a career often hampered by injury, the 30-year-old has maintained a high scoring ratio to games, with the 40 in 72 games for Switzerland making him the record scorer for the national team. - Sapa-DPA

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