"The chance to solidify Switzerland as a genuine contender" - An in-depth preview of "hungry and fearless" Switzerland
As we edge closer to the first ever semi-final of the UEFA Nations League, the excitement and optimism is building with the taste of tournament success within touching distance for four sets of fans from across the continent. With this budding enthusiasm for international football, we took the opportunity to speak to Craig King (@FootballSwissEN) to find out more about Portugal’s upcoming opponents, Switzerland.
Indeed, the first semi-final, which will take place in Porto’s Estadio da Dragao on Wednesday evening, will, of course, be contested between two of the best Europe have to offer - Portugal and Switzerland.
As is to be expected, Portugal fans are incredibly hopeful of, and hungry for, further cause for celebration to build on their impressive Euro 2016 triumph only 3 years ago.
But how are Swiss fans feeling as the big day approaches? To get some insight into Switzerland and what Portugal could expect from their counterparts, we heard from Craig King, who you can follow @FootballSwissEN on Twitter, who made it clear how big an opportunity this was for the Swiss national team to prove themselves to the rest of the continent.
“The team comes into the tournament in optimistic fashion after upsetting the odds in their group and especially in the final game against Belgium to secure their spot amongst the other three teams. On offer in Portugal is not only a trophy but the chance to further solidify Switzerland as a genuine contender.”
“Switzerland haven't always been a "top" nation on the international stage while the teams they're rubbing shoulders with in the Nations League have, and this is a real opportunity to establish Swiss threat not only in June but beyond.”"
Those words will certainly resonate with fellow fans of the Swiss national team; while a highly reputable footballing nation boasting a highly talented squad, Switzerland are perhaps the strongest ever nation to have not yet tasted tangible success in the form of a trophy. This summer, they have the chance to change that.
We got the chance to hear more from Craig King to get the lowdown on Portugal’s upcoming opponents - and how Switzerland shouldn’t be underestimated:
So, how are the Swiss feeling about the match?
”I don't think there will be any illusions for Switzerland. Portugal were crowned European champions just under three years ago, have a very talented squad and also have Cristiano Ronaldo at their disposal and, of course, home advantage. It will be a tremendous ask for the Swiss on Wednesday but there is optimism.
”Switzerland have, over the years, built themselves into a very good side. Their qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup was perhaps the beginning of the journey with an exemplary record in their group with zero defeats, and it has continued on with back-to-back last 16 places at the World Cup (in both 2014 and 2018) and reaching the knockout stage of EURO 2016.
“This is a real golden generation and the match against Belgium proved that in a one-off game, even when the chips are down, Switzerland can beat anyone - and that should be a concern for Portugal. The only issue perhaps was the damaging 3-3 draw with Denmark in March when Switzerland threw away a three-goal lead in the last ten or so minutes that provides some doubt ahead of this opening fixture.”
What can Portugal expect from their opponents?
”A hungry side. A side eager to make more history and a side that has become pretty fearless. Opening game vs. Brazil at the 2018 World Cup? No problems. A great performance and a draw. A massive fixture vs. Serbia next? They fell behind but still won. Losing two goals in seventeen minutes then needing four to advance vs. Belgium? They did that too. Also add in the fact that most of this Swiss team are on a high, with many having won trophies at club level or secured European football, and confidence is flowing.
“This side can't be discounted at all. In 2014, they took Argentina to extra-time in the World Cup. They took Poland to penalties at EURO 2016. They were narrowly beaten by Sweden at the 2018 World Cup. This side will give everything and doesn't know when to quit. Portugal are favourites but they shouldn't underestimate Switzerland - and I don't think they will. Santos and the squad are too smart for that. This will be a very tough, close match in Porto, in my opinion.”
Who would you say are the key players for the Swiss national team?
“Xherdan Shaqiri is the first name to watch out for. He always plays better for his country than he does at club level, he is the heartbeat of the Swiss side and has produced many magical moments including vs. Serbia and Poland. He is one of the dangermen and the Portuguese defence will have to tackle the Shaqiri problem otherwise he may just hurt them like he has many others in the red shirt.
“Haris Seferovic is a new problem for Swiss' opposition but a good one too. He is the striker Switzerland have been crying out for. Unexpectedly, with 23 goals in 29 this season at Benfica, he has had the best season of his career and has been outstanding for the national team too, scoring a hat-trick vs. Belgium. Portuguese football fans will know all about him now though and he should be a threat.
“Steven Zuber is a player I really like. He has made a habit of scoring big goals lately for the team despite coming onto the international scene quite late but he can produce.on the big occasions, just ask Neymar and Brazil.
“It should be an exciting game in Porto. Portugal are favourites but anything can happen. Switzerland, if they turn up, should make sure it is a tightly contested, unpredictable game. The only doubt, as I mentioned, is the frailty of the Swiss side. The 3-3 draw with Denmark shows that mentally they have to be better as throwing away that lead with so little time left was unforgivable and something they simply can't afford to do in the Nations League Finals.”
Fair to say, therefore, that Portugal face stern opposition in a bid to reach the final of yet another continental competition - adding further intrigue to what should be a terrific battle in Porto tomorrow.