How Switzerland joined the World Cup seeded elite

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 2, 2013 at 11:22 am •  Published: December 2, 2013
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GENEVA (AP) — There is one certainty among many possibilities offered by the World Cup draw Friday: Most teams want to be in Switzerland's group.

The rise of the unheralded Swiss in the FIFA rankings has brought a tournament seeding that will allow the country to avoid many of the top teams in the group stage.

Switzerland's status, however, demands an explanation for fans who don't recall that this landlocked Alpine nation of 8 million hosted the 1954 World Cup.

The Swiss, of late, have been overachievers in sports, thanks mostly to Roger Federer, an America's Cup-winning sailing team and, naturally, an array of skiers. In soccer's biggest tournaments, Switzerland has been a regular though low-key guest who typically leaves the party early.

At the 2014 World Cup, the Swiss will be seeded with host and five-time winner Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, Belgium and Colombia. The true surprise is that Switzerland claimed the eighth and final seeding ahead of Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Those three European powers are among 23 of the 32 teams awaiting their fate in the draw. They could land in the Swiss group, though protocol prevents them from stating as much.

"Let us not waste time nor energy for discussions like that," Swiss Football Association President Peter Gillieron said in a statement to The Associated Press. "We have learned that no truth is to be found in such discussions. It is the pitch where you find the truth about football."

There is also FIFA's quirky rankings system, and both factored into Switzerland's rise during a 14-match unbeaten run that began on the eve of qualifying.

Like many of Switzerland's young players, veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld was born elsewhere but is serving his adopted country on the international stage.

The German is best known for leading Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich to Champions League titles, yet played most of his career as a prolific scorer in the often-unheralded Swiss league. He coached three clubs there before heading to the Bundesliga.

Switzerland has welcomed job-seekers and displaced people, and the Balkans turmoil of recent years is reflected in Hitzfeld's lineup. Next June, his roster likely will have more players counting Albanian as their family's native tongue than French, one of the country's four official national languages.

Attacking midfielders Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka were born in Kosovo, but soon moved to Switzerland. Both were nurtured by FC Basel, which dominates the top league, and quickly left for Bayern Munich and Borussia Moenchengladbach.

At the heart of the midfield are captain Gokhan Inler, Valon Behrami and Blerim Dzemaili. They have Turkish and Albanian roots and left the Swiss league at least six years ago.

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