World Cup 2018 team preview: Will Switzerland blend youth and experience?

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group E  is Switzerland.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.

Outlook

Odds to win Group E: 14.3%
Odds to advance: 50%
Odds to win World Cup: 1.2%
Elo rank: 14
Yahoo Sports power rank: 15

Our writers say: The Schweizer Nati squeezed through UEFA qualification by virtue of a controversial penalty in a rain-sodden playoff with Northern Ireland. It was far from a glamorous route to Russia, but it must be noted Vladimir Petkovic’s side won nine of its 10 qualification games, and reached the knockout stages at Euro 2016 and the 2014 World Cup. The Swiss have every chance of progressing from the group. To call them a dark horse, though, would be a stretch. Ryan Bailey

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Ricardo Rodriguez, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka will be Switzerland’s top three players at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)
Ricardo Rodriguez, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka will be Switzerland’s top three players at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 11th
Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals (1934, 1938, 1954)
2014 finish: Lost in the Round of 16 to Argentina
Qualifying: Finished second in UEFA Group B behind Portugal, beat Northern Ireland in the playoffs
Schedule: Brazil (Sunday, June 17, 2 p.m., FS1), Serbia (Friday, June 22, 2 p.m., Fox), Costa Rica (Wednesday, June 27, 2 p.m., Fox/FS1)

[Group E preview]

Squad

Manager: Vladimir Petkovic
Captain: Stephan Lichtsteiner (D)
Top players: Granit Xhaka (M), Xherdan Shaqiri (M), Ricardo Rodriguez (D)
Full 23-man squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: There’s an appeasing blend of youth and experience at the back, with Manuel Akanji likely coming in to replace Johan Djourou. Xhaka, oft-derided at Arsenal – but often unfairly – is easily the best player in the side. The midfield is stable around him. And there’s hope – though not expectation – that Petkovic will give kids a shot to inject life into a team that in some areas has gotten old, mediocre and stale.

Why they’ll lose games: Shaqiri, as talented as he is, can be too ball-dominant. Just like a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer in basketball, he can effectively shoot his team out of games. But even then, that may be Switzerland’s best attacking option – Haris Seferovic, who’s expected to start up top, is very limited and hasn’t scored a club goal since October. Breel Embolo, another option, is the opposite of clinical in front of goal.

How they’ll play: Xhaka bears much of the creative responsibility in midfield. He’ll spray the ball around to overlapping fullbacks, especially Rodriguez on the left. The issue they run into is that Seferovic doesn’t contribute much outside the box, and there’s no traditional No. 10 to play directly underneath him, so playmaking can be a problem.

Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Yann Sommer; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Fabian Schar, Manuel Akanji, Ricardo Rodriguez; Granit Xhaka, Valon Behrami; Xherdan Shaqiri, Blerim Dzemaili, Steven Zuber; Haris Seferovic.

There are several options for Petkovic, and several places up for grabs. If he wants young legs, he has Denis Zakaria in midfield and Embolo in attack. Behrami – he of one of the most valiant individual World Cup plays in recent memory – is still around, though, and is the favorite to start next to Xhaka. Remo Freuler is another candidate for that spot, or to take Dzemaili’s more advanced midfield place.

Admir Mehmedi had been a mainstay on the left wing, but missed the last two months of the club season after a Lisfranc tear and didn’t make the squad, so one of Zuber and Embolo should start.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: The squad is a beautiful melting pot. Players who recently appeared for the national team were born in countries such as the Ivory Coast, Cape Verde, Cameroon and Yugoslavia. Others are of Chilean, Spanish, Nigerian, Albanian, Kosovar Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese, South Sudanese and Zairian descent.

Why to root for them: The pugnacious Shaqiri, at his best, can be a joy to watch, and can score the type of goals that jolt you out of your seat – even if for every one of them, there are 10 shots that fly into row Z.

Why to root against them: Beyond Shaqiri and Xhaka, they’re fairly average and, frankly, boring – if players like Zakaria can’t get in the team.

If you’re going to watch one game … Watch the opener, but not because of Switzerland – wink wink.

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

Group previews

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

More World Cup coverage from Yahoo Sports:
2018 World Cup preview hub
Ranking the top 100 players at the World Cup
FC Yahoo Mixer: The Ronaldo vs. Messi debate
A tactical guide to the 2018 World Cup
How Vladimir Putin can use the World Cup to his benefit

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