Sports

The kids are all right for coach Hitzfeld

SWITZERLAND

Veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld will hope the youthful verve of his Switzerland squad can provide one last hurrah in his decorated career. Hitzfeld, whose honours include Champions League triumphs at the helm of German giants Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, is set to retire at the end of the competition.

Having suffered the humiliation of elimination at the group stage of Euro 2008, despite their status as co-hosts, Switzerland turned to Hitzfeld in the tournament’s aftermath.

The move paid instant dividends as they topped their 2010World Cup qualifying group and went on to send shockwaves through international football with a 1-0 triumph over Spain in their opening game, with Gelson Fernandes’ scrambled finish enough to see off the reigning European champions and eventual winners.

It proved to be a relatively false dawn, as Switzerland failed to secure a passage from the roundrobin phase and fell short in qualification for Euro 2012.

But Hitzfeld’s men left little doubt that lessons had been learnt with an emphatic march to Brazil, topping Uefa Group E with 24 points from 10 unbeaten games.

Switzerland were both ruthlessly efficient and easy on the eye in qualification; seasoned performers such as Tranquillo Barnetta, Gokhan Inler and Philippe Senderos provided a solid, established core that allowed exciting youngsters Xherdan Shaqiri (above), Granit Xhaka, Fabian Schar and Valentin Stocker to flourish.