Swiss enjoy rousing run to finals

Coach Pierluigi Tami made light of the loss of key players to the senior side by leading Switzerland to their first Under-21 final tournament since reaching the last four in 2002.

Xherdan Shaqiri is one of a number of exciting Swiss prospects
Xherdan Shaqiri is one of a number of exciting Swiss prospects ©AFP

After winning the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup, more of Switzerland's best young talent will be showcased at the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championship.

So quick has been the rise of some of his players that one of coach Pierluigi Tami's biggest problems in qualifying was juggling his resources: François Affolter, Xherdan Shaqiri, Valentin Stocker, Moreno Costanzo and Eren Derdiyok divided their time between the U21 and senior sides.

Midfielders Stocker and Costanzo in particular were key figures during the first half of the campaign, yet even after their promotion to the senior ranks Tami remained confident in his squad. "It wasn't easy, but I always knew we could replace them with other, younger players," said the coach, whose team topped Group 2 before beating Sweden in their play-off.

He was referring to the likes of Nassim Ben Khalifa and Pajtim Kasami, U17 World Cup winners who were both on target in the 5-2 aggregate triumph over Sweden. While some faces changed, one stayed the same: goalkeeper Yann Sommer played 11 of the 12 matches and was a big influence, saving a penalty in the home first leg against Sweden with the score at 3-1. "Whenever we were under pressure or showing nerves he was there," Tami said. "He was an important part of our success."

Tami replaced Pierre-André Schürmann as coach with Switzerland having already beaten Armenia, yet they lost surprisingly to Estonia in his debut match in August 2009. That, however, was the low point of a campaign that gathered pace with away wins against Armenia and Estonia preceding a 1-1 draw in the Republic of Ireland. Stocker then scored twice in a crucial away victory over Turkey which was followed four days later by a success against Georgia.

The Swiss stumbled with the play-offs in sight – losing to Turkey then drawing in Georgia – but a win against the Republic of Ireland in their last game confirmed top spot. So to the play-offs against Swedish opponents who had got to the 2009 semi-finals as hosts. After a 4-1 first-leg triumph in Sion, with goals from Frei, Xavier Hochstrasser, Admir Mehmedi and Kasami, Switzerland finished the job by drawing 1-1 in Malmo.

It is the third time Switzerland have qualified for these finals – and the first since 2002 when they were semi-finalists on home soil. They will learn their group stage fate when the draw is made in Aalborg next Tuesday though they need fear nobody.