With Switzerland finishing third in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group G and missing out on the final tournament, coach Ottmar Hitzfeld offered UEFA.com his thoughts on the upcoming play-offs and what the future holds for his side.
The 62-year-old's team came in one point short of second-placed Montenegro in the group after losing 1-0 in Podgorica in October 2010 before a 2-0 victory over Branko Brnović's men in the teams' concluding qualifier last month. Hitzfeld is therefore fully aware of the Montenegrins' strengths and weaknesses.
"It will be a very exciting match between Montenegro and the Czech Republic," he said. "Montenegro are a strong, fighting team but the Czech Republic are also a very good side. This is a match where there's not really a favourite. Of course everybody will say the Czech Republic are favourites but Montenegro also have some top-class players like [Mirko] Vučinić."
Another contest hanging in the balance, according to Hitzfeld, is the encounter between the Republic of Ireland and Estonia. "Ireland against Estonia is also a match on a knife edge," said the former Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern München boss. "They are two teams that have surprisingly finished in second place. I think Ireland are the favourites because they have more quality. They are very robust at the back, and when it comes to set pieces they have many players who are great in the air."
The experienced trainer is backing Croatia in their tie with Turkey although he highlighted the difficulties of playing in front of a hostile crowd in Istanbul. "It will be a very exciting match," he said. "Croatia is a footballing nation just like Turkey but Croatia have many technically good players. Some players play in England, in Spain and in Germany, and they have a lot of quality. Turkey are highly dangerous at home but aren't that reliable in away matches, which is why I think Croatia are favourites."
Hitzfeld believes Portugal will get the better of Bosnia and Herzegovina over two legs, yet by no means will it be plain sailing for Paulo Bento's side. "The big surprise is that Bosnia managed to secure second place," he said. "They have a lot of quality and Portugal have been a bit disappointing in the last few matches. Taking this into consideration, they are difficult opponents for Portugal but I think they have more quality and more potential. I think Portugal will come out on top in the end."
Switzerland's failure to qualify from Group G was a huge setback for Hitzfeld who rued a high turnover of players since the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Even so, he remains upbeat about his promising young squad. "Since the World Cup we lost eight players that were the core team and I don't think any team in the world would be able to bear this," he said. "
I'm confident we have very good talents in Switzerland. Our Under-17 team won the 2009 World Cup. There are two or three interesting players aged 19 now, who have a place in the national team, such as Granit Xhaka, Ricardo Rodriguez, Nassim Ben Khalifa. You need to be a bit patient."
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