herald

Friday 20 September 2019

Ireland have Swiss issue

Top players and a strong history so why do Irish fans think Swiss are rubbish?

Liverpool’s Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri
Liverpool’s Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri
Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka

The draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers saw gasps of breath, and not in a good way, from one part of this island, as Northern Ireland fans were hit with the news their team were in the same group as Germany and Holland.

When the Republic of Ireland were drawn in the same group as Switzerland, there was nothing but a shrug of indifference. Nothing to fear here the phrase, We Can Beat This Lot the song.

It's one of the biggest blind spots with the national team in Ireland: ignoring our terrible record against the Swiss (just two wins for Ireland in eight competitive games) and the clear, but unacknowledged, class in their squad.

The Swiss team qualify for more tournaments than Ireland, they haven't been out of the top 20 teams in the FIFA world rankings for a decade, they regularly have their own clubs and their players compete in the group stages of the Champions League and Europa League.

And yet Irish Football Inc. disregards them just because they are Switzerland.

"When the draw was made, we didn't get Holland and Germany but suddenly got Switzerland and Denmark, you think 'oh great' but then you realise that you still have to play two good teams, that Switzerland have some excellent players," Mick McCarthy says.

We're all a bit lazy, seeing things in terms of how they relate to the Premier League in England. There are almost as many players from the Croatian league (two) as from the Premier League (three) in the Swiss squad for Thursday's game in Dublin. So they can't be up to much.

Even the absence of one Premier League man, Xherdan Shaqiri, is seen as a big help to Ireland and a problem for the Swiss for their trip to Dublin, his bulky presence to be missed by them and leaving them (we think) bland and weak.

It has almost always been this way. When Ireland were paired with the Swiss for the Euro 2004 qualifiers, there was little thought given to them, Ireland on a high from a World Cup finals which the Swiss had failed to qualify for.

Two games in and we had an answer, the Swiss with two wins (one in Dublin) and Irlande nul points. Switzerland finished four points ahead of Ireland and won the group.

It was the same for the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, an Ireland team of Premier League regulars expected to (but unable to) beat the Swiss.

Here's a thought. How many of the current Ireland squad have won a trophy? Omit titles from the lower leagues, ignore the daftness of the promotion play-off success being deemed worthy of silverware and we're down to one player: Enda Stevens, from his League of Ireland success with Shamrock Rovers nine years ago.

The Swiss? They may not all have trophy homes but they have medals to put in them if they choose to do so.

All but six players from their 25-man squad have won a trophy of some kind, a chunk of them in the Swiss league but also abroad. The only player involved in Thursday's game to boast an FA Cup winner's medal is Granit Xhaka.

This season, Haris Seferovic (Benfica), Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund), Yvon Mvogo (RB Leipzig), Remo Freuler (Atalanta) and the duo of Mario Gavranovic and François Moubandje (Dinamo Zagreb) will all play in the Champions League. Another 10 Swiss players are at clubs involved in the Europa League group stage.

"They have been one of the top teams in Europe for a long time, not winning things but always being in competitions, always doing well in them.

The manager has been there a while, they have a good system that the play, they have good players within that system playing with good clubs," McCarthy believes.

McCarthy (2002) and Brian Kerr (2005) had their careers as Ireland coach ended by the Swiss. And Irish football this week needs to learn a bit more and presume a little less.

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