When Xherden Shaqiri slalomed through the Danish defence in 2011 and guided the ball into the bottom corner to score the opening goal of the European U21 Championships, it was meant to mark the beginning of a golden era in Swiss football.
The goal defeated the hosts and the Swiss marched all the way to final, beaten only by a ludicrously strong Spain side (David De Gea, Javi Martinez, Mata were among the star names). The success of that tournament transitioned to domestic football the following season, the core of that side played for FC Basel and starred in victories over European giants Bayern Munich and Manchester United at St Jakobs Park.
However since then Swiss football has slumped somewhat, with the national team producing a series of mediocre, bordering on poor, performances. In fact they failed to even qualify for the Euro 2012, edged out by Montenegro in qualifying. Things went slightly more to plan during the World Cup in 2014; they came into the tournament sixth in the FIFA World Rankings and qualified out the group for the first time ever. They produced a respectable performance to take eventual finalists Argentina to extra-time in the round of 16 where they were undone by some Messi magic two minutes from time before the post cruelly prevented an equaliser at the death. However they never really convinced, they were beaten comprehensively by France in the group stage and only escaped the group ahead of Ecuador thanks to a last gasp winner against the South American side. There is therefore not a huge sense of exuberance heading into Euro 2016.
Their display during qualification also did not inspire confidence. They were defeated handily by England on two occasions and narrowly squeaked into second place ahead of Slovenia. They lost to the Slovenes in Maribor and needed a flurry of three goals in the last ten minutes to beat them at home. The Houdini routine was actually a bit of a feature of their qualification campaign. As the Swiss won in Lithuania and then Estonia thanks to a late show, Shaqiri netted the winner five minutes from time in Vilnius and an own goal deep into injury time was enough to overcome Estonia.
That is not say that Switzerland are coming into this as nohopers, this is still a side with plenty of talent. Despite a fairly average start to his in time English football with Stoke, Shaqiri is a very good player and a talismanic presence at national level, the skilful winger will be a handful. Granit Xhaka is another highprofile name in the squad. The recent Arsenal signing is a dynamic midfielder and will be vital part of any success the Swiss put together. The defence is also fairly robust, with Ricardo Rodriguez and the experienced Stephan Liechtensteiner occupying the full back positions. Those familiar with Football Manager will be alert to the potential of Basel striker Breel Embolo, the nineteen year old is in fantastic form for club and is attracting attention from Europe’s top sides. He could provide the spark for a side that often lacks creativity and goalscoring.
They have been drawn in a kind group too. Hosts France are favourites to run away with it but the Swiss are fancied to claim second ahead of minnows Albania and Romania. It is likely that awaiting them in the round of 16 will be one of Poland or Ukraine, both are eminently beatable.
Of course there are plenty of pretournament issues for this side. Architect of the crucial comeback victory over Slovenia, Josip Drmic, suffered an injury in March and the long standing question of who will lead the line for this talented group has been reignited. Will it be the out of form Haris Seferović? The out of position Admir Mehmedi? The untested Embolo? None seem ideal options. Also can manager Vladimir Petković, who struggled through qualification, prove he can fill the void left by legendary German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld?