Making quarters thrice, its best show

It could be argued that Switzerland achieves more recognition for its off-field activities.

Switzerland’s connection with football, albeit not obvious, runs deep. While Zurich is the home of FIFA, UEFA’s headquarters are established in Nyon. The country’s relaxed tax regulations and strict banking secrecy laws have attracted many international organisations and the premier football bodies are no different.

The football world’s attention turns towards Switzerland at numerous points in a year as the country plays host to most major gala events. Indeed, it could be argued that Switzerland achieves more recognition for its off-field activities.

But such hasn’t been the case always.

FC Barcelona was founded by Zurich-born Hans Kamper, one among many Swiss football proselytisers who set up clubs across Europe.

In the 1930s, a tactical revolution was engendered in Switzerland by an Austrian named Karl Rappan. Although the subsequent adoptions were independent of Rappan’s ideas, many teams implemented the verrou—French for ‘bolt’—system. The catenaccio tactic nurtured by the Italians later was not dissimilar from the verrou.

In fact, between the World Wars, most northern Italian sides featured a Swiss player, according to Jonathan Wilson in Inverting the Pyramid. Interestingly, Italy’s double World Cup-winning manager Vittorio Pozzo played for the reserve side of Zurich club Grasshoppers.

When Rappan was appointed Servette’s player-coach in 1931, he felt the need for a system that strengthened his side’s defensive capabilities as most players were semi-professional and lacked the required fitness to battle over 90 minutes. His observations on Switzerland were revealing in an interview to the World Soccer magazine in 1962.

“The Swiss is not a natural footballer, but he is usually sober in his approach to things. He can be persuaded to think and calculate ahead.”

Hence, the 1-3-3-3 system with a sweeper defender behind the back three was born.

Interestingly, the system’s shape was not too dissimilar from Jose Mourinho’s 4-3-3 employed during his first tenure at Chelsea. Although Rappan’s verrou placed undue demands on the centre-half, it added defensive steel to the side. Servette won consecutive league titles and later, Rappan added five to his kitty with Grasshoppers. The Austrian was appointed Switzerland’s manager in 1937 and led the side, regarded among the weakest in central Europe, to the World Cup quarterfinals a year later.

Defensive stability has been associated with Swiss football since. This attribute was visible at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when a sturdy Switzerland thwarted Spain to record a famous 1-0 win. Although the Spanish won the tournament, their record was blemished by this loss.

Switzerland has failed to go past the last eight thrice at the World Cup, most famously at home in 1954. In a quarter-final against Austria at Lausanne, the host took a 3-0 lead within 19 minutes. Afterwards, though, its defence collapsed to leave Switzerland 3-5 behind by the 34th minute. Despite being pegged back by a goal twice, Austria won 7-5.

Till date, this match holds the record for most goals scored in a World Cup encounter. Since that loss to Austria, Switzerland had failed to qualify for the World Cup nine times.

* * * Swiss stalwarts

Josef Hugi remains Switzerland's top-scorer in the World Cup, thanks to his six strikes on home turf in 1954. The forward spent the majority of his career at Basel and scored 244 goals in 320 appearances. Hugi finished his international career with 22 goals in 34 matches.

The only player to possess a better scoring record for the country than Hugi is Alexander Frei. Although Frei could only manage two goals at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the Basel-born striker finished his career with 42 strikes in 86 appearances.

Currently aged 34, Frei won't be seen in Brazil as he retired at the end of the 2012-13 season.

Another great Swiss forward Stephane Chapuisat failed to shine at the biggest stage but remains one of the most heralded footballers to come out of the country. He represented Switzerland 103 times, scoring 21 goals. However, Chapuisat could only manage a single strike at the 1994 World Cup in the USA.