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Are Switzerland making up the numbers in UEFA Nations League Finals?

Leigh Copson 17 May 2019
Xherdan Shaqiri (credit: MANUEL GEISSER/Imago/PA Images)

Switzerland may not be the ‘sexiest’ pick when it comes to the four national teams heading to the UEFA Nations League Finals this summer, but are they really making up the numbers or should they be considered genuine contenders for international football’s newest piece of silverware?

READ MORE: We look at the other three teams bidding for UEFA Nations League glory this summer: England, the Netherlands & Portugal.

The fact Switzerland are heading to the finals is an impressive achievement in itself. Having been grouped alongside Belgium and Iceland in League A Group 2 it was widely felt that their main aim would be just to stay in the top tier of this new competition, and that appeared to be the case when they slipped to a 2-1 defeat in Belgium last October. However, they regrouped with an important win in Iceland days later and then pulled off a major upset last November as they came back from 2-0 down to thrash the Belgians 5-2 and steal top spot in the group on goal difference.

It was incredible stuff from the Swiss, but it did little to persuade the bookmakers that they can no go onto win the UEFA Nations League Final in June. Vladimir Petkovic’s side are sitting at the bottom of the outright betting market ahead of their semi-final clash with Portugal on June 5, but have the bookmakers got it right or could Switzerland upset the odds to get their hands on the trophy?

When considering their chances you have to look at the group of players available to Petkovic and it hardly reads like a who’s who of world football. Fans of the Premier League and the Bundesliga will recognise a few of the names that are likely to make up the squad, but there are no real elite level players here – ones that can single-handedly go out there, take the game by the scruff of the neck and drag the team to victory. Xherdan Shaqiri is capable of producing moments of magic, but there is nobody else in that type of mould.

They do not appear to be short of goals though. March’s 3-3 draw with Denmark made it 10 goals in three games for the Swiss national team and they have now failed to score in only five of their last 30 international fixtures – a run that dates all the way back to the 2016 European Championship. Haris Seferovic has provided five in the last six games, topping the scoring charts during the league stage of this competition, and he goes into the finals on the back of his best ever club campaign having rattled in over 20 goals for Benfica this season. This will make him one to watch.

But it is not all about scoring goals when it comes to the Swiss. They are also a solid unit defensively and that has played a key part in the success they have enjoyed over the years. They did concede three goals in the final 10 minutes to draw with Denmark on a crazy night in March, but if you look back to their World Cup qualifying campaign you will see that they racked up eight clean sheets in 12 games. They have found shut-outs hard to come by over the past few 12 months, but when they do concede they do not let many in and that means they are always in with a chance. Only once in their last 38 fixtures have they conceded more than two goals so if they are beaten in the UEFA Nations League Finals they will not go down without a fight.

And that brings me to their semi-final meeting with Portugal. At first glance you would immediately be drawn to backing the European champions, but Switzerland proved very recently that they are more than capable of getting the better of Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. These two teams were paired together in the qualifying stages for last summer’s World Cup and the Swiss stunned the Portuguese with a 2-0 victory less than three months after they had been crowned European champions. A late stumble allowed Portugal to snatch top spot in the group from under their noses, but it was still an impressive campaign from a Switzerland side who won nine of their group stage fixtures and only missed out on top spot on goal difference only. So as you can see, Petkovic’s side are more than capable of shocking Portugal is the semi-finals and they can spring that upset then all bets will be off in the final. 

Now much of what I have written about is to do with qualifying, so how do they fare in major international tournaments? They have, of course, never won a major competition, but they have reached the knockout stage in each of their last three appearances at a major international tournament and they have not been easy to eliminate. Argentina needed extra-time to finally see them off at the 2014 World Cup and Sweden narrowly edged a 1-0 win in the last-16 of last summer’s tournament. And at Euro 2016, Poland needed a penalty shoot-out to send the Swiss home so, as you can see, when it comes to knock-out football they do take some beating.

But can we really expect Switzerland to be crowned inaugural winners of the UEFA Nations League? They are going to need to be at their absolute best because the Portuguese are the reigning kings of European football, the Dutch are enjoying a real renaissance and Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions are riding the crest of a wave following last year’s World Cup exploits. However, they have already sent Belgium packing en route to the finals so would it really be a gigantic shock to see them beat Portugal and then get the better of England or the Netherlands? I believe that the bookmakers have got it right in ranking the Swiss last in the outright betting, but there is certainly the recipe there for Switzerland to lift the trophy on June 9.

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Are Switzerland making up the numbers in UEFA Nations League Finals?

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