Sunday 18 February 2018

Striking problems leave Swiss at a low ebb

Glenn Moore

After the humiliation inflicted by Sepp Blatter, the English FA could regard it as bitterly ironic that England's opposition at Wembley today are also Swiss.

However, while the FIFA president appears as impregnable as ever, his nation's footballers are at a low ebb.

While it would be unwise to be too complacent against a team which defeated Spain at the World Cup, Switzerland arrive at Wembley tomorrow in desperate straits when it comes to goalscoring.

Two leading strikers have quit international football in protest against the abuse they were receiving from fans and media alike, and a third has been dropped after criticising coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.

That left Philippe Senderos, the former Arsenal centre-half who occasionally makes an appearance for Fulham, second top scorer in the 21-man squad with five goals, one fewer than the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta.

Neither has scored for their country this season. Indeed, only two members of the squad have, Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored a spectacular consolation in Switzerland's 3-1 defeat at home by England in September, and the Udinese midfielder, Gokhan Inler.

His goal came in the 4-1 defeat of Wales in October, Switzerland's only win in 10 games since defeating Spain in Durban. That shock victory was followed by two blanks against Chile and Honduras, sending Switzerland out of the World Cup at the group stage.

Little has gone right for them since. Alexander Frei (42 goals from 84 appearances) and Marco Streller (12 from 37) quit after the last international, a goalless draw in Sofia that followed a 0-0 draw with Malta.

Valentin Stocker, who scored twice against Wales, is injured while the veteran Hakan Yakin has been dropped, perhaps because he publicly disagreed with Hitzfeld leaving him on the bench against Bulgaria.

Blaise Nkufo, who led the line against Spain, has also retired.

Switzerland do have a lot of promising young players. Drawing heavily on footballers who either moved to the country as children, or were born to immigrants, they won the last world U-17 tournament in 2009.

Although Kosovan-born striker Granit Xhaka has been called up for this match, the reality is it is too early for the graduates from that team to help Hitzfeld.

He is thus considering changing formation to cope with the lack of strikers. "One option is to change the system, to play with an attacking midfielder and a support striker," he said. "We have a few options."

Not many though, with Eren Derdiyok, scorer of six goals in 32 Bundesliga matches with Bayer Leverkusen this season, the only capped striker in the squad. (© Indpendent News Service)

Irish Independent

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