World Cup 2014: Switzerland Preview - Shaqiri to lead Hitzfeld's last hurrah?

Xherdan Shaqiri

As Group E's top seeds, Switzerland may be about to upstage neighbours France and go on to their best international tournament in years.

Switzerland's World Cup plans lie in the capable hands of managerial veteran Ottmar Hitzfeld, whose six years in charge of the national team is due to come to an end after the tournament. He has helped bring through a talented group of players, many of whom were successful during international youth tournaments.  Here is your in-depth preview to their chances this summer...

The perception

Switzerland were seen by many as the weakest seeded team ahead of the World Cup draw, and though it's true that there are traditionally stronger teams at the tournament, Switzerland may be about to prove they can mix it up with the big boys on the world stage. Tackling France in the group fixtures will be a marker for how well they can do in the tournament, with the Swiss at the very least expecting to finish in the top two in Group E.

The reality

A qualifying group without any series challenges may have aided Switzerland's route to the finals, but topping their group with no losses and just 6 goals conceded is not to be sniffed at. Former Arsenal target Josip Drmic has enjoyed a prolific season in the Bundesliga and much will be expected of him in terms of leading the challenge from the front, while there is real quality in midfield with Bayern's Xherdan Shaqiri and Napoli's Gokhan Inler. They may have to top the group again to avoid playing Argentina in the knockout round.

Strengths

There are several players familiar to Premier League fans in the squad, with former Arsenal defenders Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou perhaps the most recognisable. Switzerland have a good balance of youth and experience in their squad, with several players such as Shaqiri, Drmic, Granit Xhaka and Ricardo Rodriguez winning the Under-17 World Cup in 2009. That same team went on to the 2011 European Championships Under-21 final, narrowly losing out to Spain. Players with decent experience in the Premier League, as well as Serie A like Inler and Juventus' Stephan Lichtsteiner add steal and resilience to the side, ensuring they will be tough to break down. 

Weaknesses

A lot will be expected of their many promising young players, but with several under the age of 23 and with limited caps it is impossible to predict how they will perform in South America at their first World Cup. There is a particular question mark up front, where no forward is over the age of 24, or has more than 4 goals at this level. There is promise there, especially with Drmic, but if someone doesn't step up the Swiss may have trouble finding the back of the net.

Star Player

Despite Inler's integral role as captain, Xherdan Shaqiri is the side's live wire attacking threat. Likely to be starting on the right, where he can cut inside and shoot with his left foot, he is the second highest goalscorer in the squad, with 8 goals in 31 games. The winger, who has been linked with Liverpool this summer, has played somewhat of a bit part at German champs Bayern Munich since signing for two summers ago, so will be eager to put in an impressive tournament to either climb further up the ladder at the Allianz Arena, or secure a move elsewhere in Europe. 

One to Watch

With so many youngsters that could shine, it's hard to pick just the one to keep an eye on. Josip Drmic deserves a mention though, after managing to find the net an impressive 17 times in 33 games for relegated Bundesliga outfit FC Nuremberg. It earned him a move to Bayer Leverkusen after being linked with the Premier League, and a double in the March friendly against Croatia, his first goals for his country, showed that he has something to offer at international level. A goalscorer wherever he has played so far, he is quick and agile, and capable of holding the ball up. Wolfsburg fullback Ricardo Rodriguez is also very highly thought of, offering attacking threat down the left flank.

Verdict

Much will depend on Switzerland's first two games. There will be an expectation to beat Ecuador, though it is hard to predict how the European sides will fare against the South Americans on their own continent. The following game against France will likely decide how far they can go in Brazil, as whoever loses that is likely to meet highly fancied Argentina in the next round. If the young players click and Drmic and Shaqiri find some goalscoring form, Switzerland may surprise the French, and could then make it as far the quarter final stage if the draw is kind. 

Predicted line-up

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