Hitzfeld leaves outstanding legacy for Swiss

Ottmar Hitzfeld, one of European football’s most distinguished coaches, finally bowed out on Tuesday and in doing so left a wonderful legacy for Swiss football.

The 65-year-old had announced that he would retire at the end of the tournament and was ushered out when Switzerland suffered a heart-breaking 1-0 loss to Argentina after extra time in their second round match in Sao Paulo.

While Hitzfeld is remembered in the Bundesliga for the seven league titles and two Champions League crowns he won with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the Swiss have just as much reason to be grateful.

In six years in charge, Hitzfeld, in his trademark beige raincoat, led Switzerland to two World Cups, transformed their dour defensive style and left a talented young team which should serve incoming coach Vladimir Petkovic for several years to come.

Hitzfeld’s vibrant side of second-generation immigrants, epitomised by the cheeky skills of Kosovo-born Xherdan Shaqiri, were a far cry from the teams which bored fans rigid at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

Switzerland scored four goals and conceded none as they reached the second round eight years ago where their goalless draw against Ukraine is widely seen as one of the low points in modern World Cup history.

More goals

Four years ago, they went out in the group stage with the thoroughly unremarkable, if consistent, record of one win, one draw, one defeat, one goal scored and one against.

This time, their four games produced more goals and excitement than their previous two campaigns combined, with seven for and seven against, including a memorable Shaqiri hat-trick against Honduras.

Left-footed Shaqiri, 22, is the pick of the crop, with the close control and long-range shooting of a South American player, while Ricardo Rodriguez, 21 is already regarded as one of Europe’s top left backs.

Centre back Fabian Schaer, 22, who had an outstanding game as the Swiss defence kept Argentina’s attack at bay for nearly two hours on Tuesday, is another youngster with huge potential.

Attacking midfielder Granit Xhaka, known as “Little Einstein” by his team mates is already a regular for Borussia Moenchengladbach and looks to be a fixture in the Swiss side for several years.

Meanwhile, all four forwards in the Swiss team, Josip Drmic, Admir Mehmedi, Haris Seferovic and Mario Gavranovic are in their early 20s.

There are other players, such as midfielder Pajtim Kasami and defender Steven Widmer, who did not make their World Cup squad.

Playing time

Perhaps the crucial question for Switzerland is how the players fare in their club careers.

Some of the more experienced players in the Swiss side such as defenders Johan Djourou and Philippe Senderos have already experienced the cruel side of football with injuries and long spells in the reserves at club level.

At present, Xhaka and Rodriguez, who was ever-present for VfL Wolfsburg last season, and Mehmedi, who helped steer Freiburg clear of relegation, are already well-established at their Bundesliga clubs.

Drmic scored 17 goals for Nuremberg last season but his side was relegated and he will have to start again at Moenchengladbach next season.

Seferovic has flitted from club to club and is now at Real Socieded where he struggled for a game at the end of last season.

 The biggest doubt, however, concerns Shaqiri who saw precious little action at Bayern Munich last season and cannot afford another season on the sidelines.

Reuters