Switzerland will be taking part in its tenth World Cup, and its third in a row. Coached by a vastly experienced Ottmar Hitzfield, the German has won countless Bundesliga titles and is one of few coaches to have won the Champions League with two different teams. His ties to Switzerland extend back to his playing days when he suited up for various Swiss sides, including FC Basel. Hitzfeld considered Switzerland his dream job and will retire after the World Cup.
The Swiss have a strong chance to make it out of the group stage. Having been the only team to prevent Spain from scoring in South Africa, they have a compact team captained by Napoli’s Gokhan Inler, and filled with stars around the pitch . Switzerland received a fortuitous draw partly because they were controversially seeded for the competition.
The Swiss players are scattered throughout the top leagues of Europe, with a strong concentration in the Bundesliga. This however, has not always been the case. Sure the Swiss had some stars that broke through in Germany like Stephane Chapuisat, Ciriaco Sforza or Alain Sutter, but now it has become the norm. FC Basel’s success in Europe has also lifted the Swiss profile on the footballing stage, beating Chelsea twice in the group stages last year.
And while those stars of the 90s still had Swiss-sounding names, the new generation of players could have opted for a number of other countries. The Swiss team has been modeled by waves of immigration, fueled by the civil war in the former Yugoslavia and constant ethnic tension in the Balkans.
In an interview with German Television station ZDF, Switzerland stars Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka laid loose after the national team qualified for Brazil.
After speaking of individual achievements, with one playing for giants Bayern Munich and the other for Borussia Monchengladbach, the interviewer blankly asked how it felt like growing up in Switzerland.
Both Shaqiri and Xkaka are not your typical Swiss players of yesteryear. Coming from Kosovo with roots in Albania, they are just a few of a large immigrant population from the Balkans currently residing in Switzerland. A mixture of Croats, Serbs, Albanians, Bosnians, and Turks make up a bulk of today’s Swiss National Team. Their ancestors immigrated to Switzerland during different stages over the past thirty years. Wars in the Balkans ushered scores of future talent to the small landlocked nation, while the Turks settled earlier during lax immigration policies hoping to attract manual laborers.
Xhaka answered calmly, saying how he has viewed Switzerland as his home. The defensive midfielder often regarded as the brains behind the Borussia team, was born in Switzerland to Albanian parents. He paused and added that it can be hard. “You are known as an Auslander everywhere,” he said referring to the term that simply means foreigner. But the term “Auslander” is used as an insult, a word of shame implying that you are different. The Swiss national team is littered with them, names that don’t mix with the local population.
Football is the most popular sport in Switzerland and multiculturalism is largely accepted in the confederation, however it has sparked intense debate about the true cost of the country’s immigration policies, with soccer stars being criticized for not singing the national anthem, some speaking in a broken accent and lacking strong roots to the country they represent.
While this may be coined the least Swiss side, it could also be the most successful one based on the draw. Playing Ecuador in the opening game, and Honduras in the final game, the Swiss need to start strong and finish strong. They will fancy their chances against France, especially with a dominant midfield which includes Shaqiri, Xhaka, Behrami, and Stocker. Switzerland also have one of the deadliest strikers in the Bundesliga. Josip Drmic secured a move to Champions League contenders Bayer Leverkusen on the back of a season where he scored 17 goals. Of Croatian heritage, the young striker marked his entry for the Swiss team by scoring 2 goals against Croatia in a game that brought on mixed emotions. Drmic may be a Croatian name, but Josip did his Switzerland, the country of his birth, proud.