Switzerland’s Jekyll and Hyde history makes it difficult to predict how they’ll fare in Group H, but goals will likely be sparse in matches featuring Ottmar Hitzfeld’s men.
The Swiss qualified for South Africa top of their group having beaten fellow World Cup qualifiers Greece (ranked 12th in the world) home and away. But such a pedigree can be misleading as Switzerland also managed to lose at home to Luxembourg (ranked 127th in the world) – their only defeat of the campaign.
Such a seemingly arbitrary set of results only mimics their showings at recent major tournaments though. At Euro 2008, which they hosted, Switzerland lost to the Czech Republic and Turkey but then beat a Portugal side with a previously perfect record in the competition.
At the last World Cup in 2006 they topped their group, which included France, Togo and South Korea but lost to Ukraine in the round of 16 following a drab 0-0 draw and dismal penalty shoot-out showing.
Throughout this sequence Switzerland’s games feature a distinct lack of goals. In a qualification group that included Latvia and Moldova they only once scored more than two goals in a match, and that was against Luxembourg in a 3-0 win.
In the last 17 competitive matches that Switzerland have been involved in, the average goals per game is just 2.1, while they scored an average of only 1.4 goals per game over the same period.
Such statistics don’t bode well for success in a group that contains favourites Spain and much-fancied Chile but they do indicate that money could be made by betting on low goal totals. Backing Spain for a limited 1-0 win in Switzerland’s first group game at 6/1 could be wise.
With Honduras looking certs to prop up the group, Switzerland’s crunch game will be with Chile in their second match and, at 11/5 for a Swiss win, much will depend on whether Alexander Frei stays fit. He is Switzerland’s top scorer with 40 goals in 73 games, and his injury in the first half of the team’s Euro 2008 tournament was a key factor in their surprise elimination.
Can Switzerland cause another 2006 surprise and top their World Cup group? Back them at 11/1 to do so.