At long last, EURO 2020 is beckoning this summer.
In exactly three months, the tournament will be underway and ready for its second match, when Switzerland meet Wales in Baku, Azerbaijan. It is long overdue for all, especially the Schweizer Nati, who have been eagerly awaiting their fifth appearance at the European Championship, 25 years after the first.
Vladimir Petković’s side have a tough group in Wales, Italy and Turkey, and even with the year’s postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic, the task has not become any easier. The Swiss have a point to prove not only to themselves, but to Europe, showing that they are able to establish their status as one of the continent’s finest.
As the final preparations for the tournament begin, can Switzerland perform this summer?
The biggest blow by far is the absence of long-serving captain Stephan Lichtsteiner, who announced his retirement last August. His replacements cause no concern – Granit Xhaka and Kevin Mbabu coming in as captain and right-back respectively – but the loss of one of Switzerland’s most decorated players of the modern era is a bitter one.
There is now no-one in the current Swiss crop who has earned 100 caps – perhaps a sign of the passing from the old guard to the new, highlighting the striking gap left by Lichtsteiner. Whether he would have been a starter at the tournament is debatable, yet no one can dispute that his presence in the national team camp will be missed.
Truth be told, there is little optimism for the Nati following a horrendous 2020.
Switzerland were lucky to avoid relegation from League A of the Nations League, failing to win any of their first seven games in all competitions. Their only victory came through the matter of technicality, having been awarded a 3-0 win against Ukraine due to positive COVID-19 tests within the opponents’ squad.
Excluding the awarded result, Switzerland finished 2020 with three draws and four defeats, their worst year for results in a decade. Even the Ukraine ‘win’ only mustered a win percentage of 12.5%, demonstrating how difficult of a year it was for Petković.
In their defence, Switzerland did face tough opponents in the likes of Germany, Spain and Belgium – but that is what makes it even more concerning.
How can Switzerland expect to compete with the best, if they cannot even beat the best? For years, what has been holding the Nati back is their recurring inability to perform against the best countries in the world. It is all well and good comfortably prevailing over the average teams, but that is what separates the best from the rest.
Petković must put the last year behind him and focus on the challenge ahead, having faith in what the squad is capable of achieving.
One only has to look at their achievements under the Swiss-Bosnian since his arrival in 2014: A first appearance in the knockout stages of the EUROs, qualifying for a fourth consecutive World Cup, reaching the inaugural Nations League Finals.
Petković remains the best man for the job, taking the country to new heights in the last seven years. There is no reason to doubt the man in charge, though there must be significant improvements in 2021 if he is to continue in that manner. He has earned the trust and support of the nation, which he needs now more than ever.
Above all, Switzerland continue to have a plethora of superb players.
Xhaka is the perfect leader in Lichtsteiner’s departure, closing in on a century of caps himself and proving to be one of the finest Swiss midfielders in recent times.
Yann Sommer is aging like fine wine, at the very top of his game and rightfully maintaining the number one spot at the tender age of 32.
Then there is the new generation of emerging stars, not young in age but fresh in impact. Nico Elvedi is becoming more imperative by the day at the heart of defence, Remo Freuler is continuing his emergence on the European stage and Mbabu looks set to dominate the right flank for years to come.
Switzerland have the right players, the right manager and the right ethos, determined to perform when it matters and send a statement across the continent. There is work to be done, and key decisions to be made regarding tactics and personnel.
The next three months will be crucial, with so much at stake for the Nati. But when 12th June comes around, and the first whistle blows in Baku, Switzerland will be ready.
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