Critical injury may hobble SwissThe towering 6-foot-3 Swiss defender Philippe Senderos has already shown leadership qualities in his career to date. At 13, he was captain of the Swiss under-15 team; and then at 17 he captained Switzerland to the European Under-17 Championship.
Now at the ripe old age of 21, Senderos looks like a leader on the field at the World Cup, Switzerland’s first appearance in the finals since the 1994 tournament in the United States.
One of Korea’s three opponents in the preliminary round, Switzerland is an intriguing team. The team’s captain, Johann Vogel, controls the Swiss pace from the midfield, and another midfielder, Johan Vonlanthen, is the team’s biggest offensive threat. Tranquillo Barnetta and Daniel Gygax give the Swiss some speed up front. Senderos is the key component in the Swiss’ defensive corps, which also includes Ludovic Magnin and Philipp Degen.
Because several of the national players were together on the under-17 squad, the team’s unity, bred by familiarity, gives a new meaning to ticking like a Swiss watch.
Korea has a few things working in its favor, and punters would be justified in pondering the chances of an upset.
Alexander Frei, the nation’s best striker with seven goals in 10 World Cup qualifying matches, underwent groin surgery in late February, and though he said at the time he hoped to be back in shape for the World Cup, his doctors told him he would be out for perhaps 12 weeks. His chances of rejoining the team in Germany are slim at best. The absence of Frei, who was the leading goal scorer for Stade Rennes in the French Ligue 1 last season, is a huge blow to Swiss fans but has caused the Korean defenders to heave a sigh of relief.
Switzerland will also be without midfielder Benjamin Huggel, who has been suspended for six FIFA-sanctioned matches for his part in a post-game brawl after Switzerland’s World Cup qualifying match against Turkey in November.
Switzerland is a young team - other than its 35-year-old goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbuhler, no scheduled starter is over the age of 30. Looked at slightly differently, though, that could be another way of saying the squad is inexperienced.
Switzerland has become a dark-horse darling in the tournament, but optimistic pundits here believe that without its leading striker and with a relatively slow-footed defense, it could be a beatable opponent for Korea.
by Yoo Jee-ho