The future is bright for the Switzerland national team.
While the men’s senior team begin their World Cup qualification campaign, the under-21 side are off to the under-21 European Championship in Hungary and Slovenia, in what should be an exciting tournament.
Switzerland face a tough task to qualify from Group D, where they will meet England, Portugal and Croatia. Nonetheless, it provides a glorious opportunity for Mauro Lustrinelli’s young guns to showcase themselves on the European stage, right on the doorstep of representing their country at senior level.
The Schweizer Nati have an impressive 23-man squad, but who are the standout stars among the ranks that could perform? This is the Swiss sextet to watch out for.
Striker, Brighton & Hove Albion
Andi Zeqiri is Switzerland’s key attacking threat up front, already netting 11 goals in 13 caps for the under-21s. He scored a third of the Nati’s goals alone en route to the finals, finishing as the fourth top scorer in the qualifiers behind the likes of Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah and Celtic’s Odsonne Édouard.
The striker has already earned his first major move abroad, joining Premier League outfit Brighton & Hove Albion last October. Although his gametime has been limited, he has performed well when given the chance, even being successfully deployed as a makeshift wing-back in the Seagulls’ 2-1 win over Southampton.
A clinical striker, Zeqiri possesses the instinctual finishing and the intelligence of a modern number nine, always keen to be involved in the game and get a goal. At 21, he still has so much growth ahead of him, and a strong EUROs showing would be ideal in continuing his development for the Nati.
Midfielder, KRC Genk
One of Switzerland’s bright young midfielders, Bastien Toma is the joint-most capped player in the current crop, with 15 caps to his name. The Genk youngster left FC Sion last year in search of a new challenge, and although Belgium seemed like a peculiar choice, he looks to have settled in well with the Blauw-Wit.
Toma is a sharp, hard-working midfielder, capable of fitting in nicely to the midfield trio while offering an extra attacking option from the middle. While he does not score often – he has two goals for the Nati and just one for Genk – Toma is a naturally gifted finisher, as graceful and clinical as a striker would be.
Whether Lustrinelli deploys a midfield pivot or trio, Toma is certain to be part of the starting XI for the group stage. He has some huge midfield battles ahead against England and Portugal, but regardless of the outcome, the tournament will be a valuable experience for the Genk man.
Defender, OGC Nice
Of the six Swiss youngsters, Jordan Lotomba is the only one who has made his senior debut. The right-back earned his first Nati cap in a 2-1 friendly defeat to Croatia, playing the full 90 minutes as a wing-back. If Vladimir Petković has already given him a chance to shine, that gives enough indication that he is good enough for the national team.
Playing his trade at OGC Nice, Lotomba has played in 77% of Ligue 1 games this season, as he begins to establish his presence in France. He is good with his feet, dribbling like a winger and delivering like a modern full-back.
If the 22-year-old performs well at the under-21 EUROs, he could be in contention for EURO 2020 this summer. With Stephan Lichtsteiner retired and competition for the vacated full-back position, Lotomba will be determined to do enough to convince Petković he is capable of joining the senior setup for good.
Striker, BSC Young Boys
Looking to get off the goalscoring mark for the Nati, Felix Mambimbi has been in splendid form for Swiss champions BSC Young Boys. Despite YB being stacked with attacking talent, the 20-year-old has made the fourth-most appearances this season, as they march on towards a fourth successive Super League title.
Mambimbi has been a joy to watch in Switzerland, growing from strength to strength with six goals to his name this season. With his contract in Bern running out next year, it may soon be time to consider his next steps – steps which could be influenced by this summer’s tournament.
Truthfully, Mambimbi may struggle to find a way into the Swiss starting XI ahead of Zeqiri, who will undoubtedly be Switzerland’s starting striker. Unless Lustrinelli opts for a two-man strikeforce or chooses to deploy him outwide, Mambimbi has to battle his way into a starting spot before he can start dreaming of greater things.
Midfielder, BSC Young Boys
YB have a trio of players in Switzerland’s EUROs selection, one of them being Fabian Rieder. At 19, he is the second-youngest in the squad, and has deservedly earned his first callup for the under-21s ahead of the European Championship.
The midfielder has been a key part of BSC Young Boys’ title charge this season, notching up 31 appearances under Gerardo Seoane. Like Mambimbi, Rieder has to fight for his spot – not to mention his first cap – though making the final cut is a feat of its own.
Still young and fresh faced on the scene, it is hard to say whether Rieder will get the chance to prove himself. Yet, if he is on the pitch at any point in the tournament, the midfielder is certainly one to keep tabs on for the near future.
Defender, St. Gallen
While Rieder is the second-youngest in the squad, the achievement of being the youngest player on the plane goes to Leonidas Stergiou. Having only turned 19 this month, the St. Gallen youngster made his Nati debut in the 3-0 win over Liechtenstein, reunited with Lustrinelli after playing under the manager in the under-16 squad.
Standing at just under six foot tall, Stergiou is a monster of a centre-back, dominating his opponents and outwitting them with his intelligent style and rapid speed. He is also proven for his decent dribbling and quick feet, only rarely displayed when he absolutely must.
Stergiou is still so early in his international career, but he can certainly be one for the future of the Nati. This is an exciting cohort of Swiss youngsters following in the footsteps of what was arguably the nation’s golden generation, and as the under-21 EURO is set to get underway, the Schweizer Nati will be reaching for the sky.
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