Usually, you’d think you’d know about a team after a long World Cup qualifying campaign, especially one that traversed the oft-difficult UEFA gauntlet. But one question still engulfs Switzerland as they head to Canada: are they any good?
A number of contradictory factors obfuscate the question. Historically, Switzerland aren’t very good. Before this World Cup, they’d never qualified for either of the two biggest international tournaments, nor even the European Championship. Despite being home to one of the older domestic leagues around (the Nationalliga A, founded in 1970), the Swiss never developed a group of players good enough to make any noise on the international front.
This time, however, everything clicked. Lead by winger Lara Dickenmann, La Nati absolutely crushed their group opponents in World Cup qualifying, winning nine drawing one of their ten matches. What’s more, they scored 53 goals and only conceded once. Once! Not only did Switzerland earn a berth to their first major tournament, they did so in resounding fashion.
It shouldn’t be lost on anyone, however, just why Switzerland (and indeed, two of their other Group C hopefuls) made the tournament this time around. This is the first year of the newly expanded tournament, growing from 16 teams to 24. That meant eight new opportunities for teams that wouldn’t normally have qualified out of their continental federations to book their tickets to Canada, as well as expanded the qualification pool. This is evident by looking at the teams the Swiss so handily beat down. Denmark are pretty decent, though they haven’t made a World Cup since 2007; and besides Iceland’s one appearance in the Euros, none of their opponents had made the finals of any notable international tournament.
Luckily for the Swiss, Group B won’t offer much more significant resistance. Japan are great and should waltz to the top of the group, but the Swiss will be very confident in their ability to secure some results against fellow WWC debutantes Cameroon and Ecuador. It might take until the first knockout round before we get any real grasp of how good Switzerland are. If that’s the case, I doubt the Swiss will be too upset one way or the other.
Goalkeepers: Gaëlle Thalmann (MSV Duisburg), Stenia Michel (USV Jena), Jennifer Oehrli (BSC YB Frauen).
Defenders: Nicole Remund (Zürich), Sandra Betschart (Sunnana SK), Rachel Rinast (Köln), Noëlle Maritz (Wolfsburg), Selina Kuster (Zürich), Rahel Kiwic (MSV Duisburg), Caroline Abbé (Bayern Munich), Daniela Schwarz (Valerenga).
Midfielders: Martina Moser (Hoffenheim), Cinzia Zehnder (Zürich), Lia Wälti (Turbine Potsdam), Fabienne Humm (Zürich), Florijana Ismaili (BSC YB Frauen), Vanessa Bürki (Bayern Munich), Vanessa Bernauer (Wolfsburg).
Forwards: Ramona Bachmann (Rosengard), Lara Dickenmann (Olympique Lyon), Ana-Maria Crnogorčević (Frankfurt), Eseosa Aigbogun (Basel), Barla Deplazes (Zürich).
La Nati (Short for “the national team”)
If Switzerland’s World Cup qualifiers are anything to go off of, this team likes to attack, attack, attack. There, the Swiss averaged scoring a little over five goals per game. Even against the scrubbiest of scrubs, that takes some doing.
It follows, then, that La Nati’s best players are their attackers, and none are better than Lara Dickenmann. The Ohio State grad plays for one of the best women’s teams, Olympique Lyon, and is known for scoring and creating goals from wide positions. While listed as a forward on the roster, she’s actually more of a wide midfielder and can even play full back. Dickenmann is joined in attack by forwards Ana-Maria Crnogorčević and Ramona Bachmann, each of which average about a goal every other game.
Defensively, it’s more difficult to judge Switzerland. True, they only let in the one goal in qualifying, but they’ve been much more vulnerable at the back when facing elite competition in friendlies. Clips like this 4-1 loss against the USWNT don’t inspire too much confidence:
As is the case with some of the other teams making their way to Canada after less-than-challenging qualification campaigns, how Switzerland adjust to being the underdog after being huge local favorites for so long will likely determine how far they get.
June 8, 10 p.m.: Switzerland vs. Japan at BC Place Stadium
June 12, 7 p.m.: Switzerland vs. Ecuador at BC Place Stadium
June 16, 5 p.m.: Switzerland vs. Cameroon at Commonwealth Stadium
All times Eastern