FIFA World Cup 2018: Switzerland coach says glad to play Brazil in first game
It’s not just the game against Brazil that worries Switzerland head coach Vladimir Petkovic. “It has never been easy to play Brazil. This time it seems to be more difficult than ever. I consider them favorites in our group and one of the biggest favorites for the entire World Cup. However, we must not talk about Brazil only; there are two more hard games to follow,” he said, in an e-mail interview.
Petkovic’s Switzerland begin their World Cup campaign against Brazil in Rostov-on-Don on Sunday. Placed in a tough Group E, which also has Serbia and Costa Rica, Petkovic is hopeful that playing Brazil on the first matchday would help.
“It’s a very difficult group, of course. But we may profit from the fact that Brazil will soon be over and out of our heads, so we can focus better on the games against Serbia and Costa Rica. With our preparation, I am very happy so far,” he said, before reaching Russia.
Switzerland rode on an imperious defensive record en route to the World Cup this summer – they conceded just seven goals in 12 qualification games -- and Petkovic said he believes they can be similarly astute at the back if all players, starting from the strikers, work in sync.
“Our forwards must be our first defenders,” he said. “Two years ago, when we had qualified for Euro 2016 in France, we had a very good defensive record too. If every single player in the team is defending well, then we can do well at the World Cup.”
With a number of their star players – Xherdan Shaqiri, Haris Seferovic, Ricardo Rodriguez, Fabian Schar, Granit Xhaka, among others – in their mid-20s, Switzerland have a squad many would be envious of. The former Lazio coach, however, refused to say whether he felt this is the country’s best ever team, though he predicted the core of this squad will keep playing together for a long time.
“I do not like to compare squads from different periods of time. I would rather stick to the fact that this squad has very good chances for the future. About 75 % of the players may go on together in the Swiss team for another 10 years,” he said.
Speaking about his captain Stephan Lichtsteiner, who recently moved from Juventus to Arsenal, Petkovic said the full-back could continue international duties beyond the World Cup despite already being 34.
“His experience with almost 100 caps for Switzerland is outstanding. He feels strong, is in great shape and very important for the Swiss team. Why should he retire from international football?”
Critics have often pointed to Switzerland lacking a prolific goalscorer in the team but Petkovic cited his team’s goal-scoring record during qualification – two goals on average in every game – in his defence. “I would say we have a very good mix of what each member brings into the team. Have a look at our scoring list; many players in the team know how to score goals, be it forwards, midfielders or defenders,” he said.