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World Cup 2014 : Switzerland coach 'Der General' Ottmar Hitzfeld marches into history

AFP  SAO PAULO, July 02, 2014
First Published: 05:51 IST(2/7/2014) | Last Updated: 07:39 IST(2/7/2014)

Argentina on Tuesday ended Switzerland's World Cup run and brought to a close the career of Ottmar Hitzfeld, one of Europe's greatest managers.

Hitzfeld, 65, was unable to overcome Lionel Messi's team in the World Cup last 16, a challenge complicated by news of the death of his 81-year-old brother.


 
Ottmar Hitzfeld kicks a ball during the match between Argentina and Switzerland. (AP Photo)


The German had said he would retire after the World Cup. And unlike fellow coaches Cesare Prandelli, Alberto Zaccheroni, Sabri Lamouchi, Stephen Keshi and Luis Fernando Suarez, who all stepped down after defeats, he leaves with his reputation intact.

"It's a World Cup and we were nearly at a penalty shoot-out. That of course creates a lot of tension. Unfortunately we didn't make it but I think we can walk tall and leave with our heads held high," Hitzfeld said after the 1-0 defeat.

"Der General", a trained mathematician and once a formidable centre forward, steps away after almost 30 years as a coach and more than 40 years in football.

One of only four coaches to win the Champions League with different clubs, Hitzfeld also has seven German league titles, two Swiss titles, three German cups and three Swiss cups from a remarkable coaching career.

Add to that two Swiss titles and a Swiss cup as a player and Hitzfeld's trophy cabinet is perhaps surpassed only by the great Alex Ferguson.


AP Photo

One feature of Hitzfeld's career is that while Germany is his homeland, Switzerland has always been close to his heart.

He played most of his career in Switzerland with Basel, Lugano and Luzern and it was in that country that he had his first break in management, taking over the reins at Zug and Aarau before making his name at Grasshoppers.

Such was his success there that he caught the eye of Borussia Dortmund and guided them to two league titles and the Champions League.

Somewhat inevitably, the powerhouses of German football came calling and in 1998 Hitzfeld was lured to Bayern Munich for a six-year spell that garnered an incredible four titles and a second Champions League crown.

He took three years off from the game before re-emerging at Bayern and winning the German title again. But he then walked away to take charge of the Swiss national team.

There he engineered a shock 1-0 win over eventual champions Spain at the 2010 World Cup, before Switzerland disappointingly went out at the group stage.


AP Photo

With a team based around Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri and Napoli midfielders Gokhan Inler, Valon Behrami and Blerim Dzemaili, Switzerland were unbeaten in qualifying for Brazil.

Once there, wins against Ecuador and Honduras were enough to make it to the last 16, despite a 5-2 thumping at the hands of a rampant France.

But despite running Argentina close on Tuesday, Angel Di Maria's goal two minutes before penalties meant Hitzfeld was unable to take Switzerland into the quarter-finals for the first time since 1954.

For Hitzfeld, it was similar to the 1999 Champions League final, when his Bayern Munich team were minutes from victory before Manchester United scored twice to snatch the title.

"These are emotions you can only have with football, that's why I love football," he said.


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