May 23, 2018 / 2:17 PM / in a month

Factbox: Switzerland World Cup

(Reuters) - Factbox on the Swiss national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup:

FIFA ranking: 6 (till June 7)

Previous tournaments:

Switzerland have appeared at 10 World Cups, reaching the quarter-finals in 1934, 1938 and again in 1954 when they hosted the tournament. They missed six tournaments in a row from 1970 to 1990 inclusive. They did not concede a goal in the 2006 tournament, when they lost to Ukraine on penalties in the second round, failing to convert any of their spot kicks in a 3-0 shootout defeat.

Coach:

Vladimir Petkovic: Born in present-day Bosnia, Petkovic began his playing career by winning the old Yugoslav league with FK Sarajevo.

Most his career, however, was spent in Switzerland where he alternated between the first and second divisions.

He began coaching in the Swiss lower divisions while working part-time in a Caritas charity shop.

He went to coach Young Boys, FC Sion and Samsonspur and then Lazio, winning the Coppa Italia. He replaced Ottmar Hitzfeld as Switzerland coach after the 2014 World Cup. He does not want his team to be seen as “Little Switzerland” and expects them to dominate possession against all opponents.

Key players:

Xherdan Shaqiri: His impish skills make him Switzerland’s most entertaining and dangerous player. The 26-year-old packs a powerful left-foot shot and can also unlock defenses with cunning, incisive passes.

Scored a hat-trick against Honduras at the last World Cup and his bicycle-kick goal against Poland in Euro 2016 was arguably the most spectacular ever scored by a Switzerland player at a major tournament.

Granit Xhaka: Playing just in front of the defense, the left-footed Xhaka dictates the pace in midfield with his cool, measured passing and also offers a physical presence and is a strong tackler.

Nevertheless, he divides opinion and is often made the scapegoat for the failings of his club side Arsenal. Sent off 11 times in his career, he also has a volatile streak.

Stephan Lichtsteiner: The team captain and right-back is known as “Forrest Gump” for his energetic running down the flank and his eight goals in 98 internationals are an indication of his impressive attacking prowess.

Form guide:

Switzerland have lost only one match, away to Portugal in the World Cup qualifiers, since Euro 2016. They beat Greece 1-0 and Panama 6-0 in their two March friendlies.

However, apart from Portugal, they have been untested against top-level opponents in nearly two years.

How they qualified:

Switzerland won their first nine matches in their qualifying group but were edged into second place on goal difference after a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in their 10th.

They scraped past Northern Ireland in a two-leg playoff, winning 1-0 on aggregate thanks to a hugely controversial penalty converted by Ricardo Rodriguez.

Prospects:

With Brazil expected to win Group E comfortably, Switzerland are likely to be locked in a three-way battle with Costa Rica and Serbia for second place.

The Swiss probably would not have chosen to begin against Brazil. They then face Serbia and round out group play against Costa Rica, who reached the quarter-finals four years ago.

If they manage to finish second they will face the winners of Group F — probably Germany — in the last 16.

Compiled by Brian Homewood; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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