Switzerland turned heads by winning the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria, but when they kick off their UEFA European Under-21 Championship campaign in Denmark, coach Pierluigi Tami knows they will be underdogs once more.
The team will meet up on 31 May for a week-long training camp at Saillon in Valais before heading for the finals on 8 June, and facing the hosts in their opening Group A encounter three days later. "We are not putting ourselves under any pressure," said the 49-year-old Tami. "
We will go to Denmark with the will to do well, but we are definitely not the favourites. This EURO is an opportunity for us. We have come a long way to get there, so let's keep going the same way."
However, while there are no rash predictions, there is also no sense that Tami's side are in any way coming along for the ride: the coach has set his side a concrete target. "We will take the best out of it and enjoy taking part," he explained. "We could experience something unforgettable in Denmark. Our objective is to end up in the top three which would qualify us for the Olympic tournament in 2012. But that will be very difficult."
Switzerland's chances of fulfilling that aim may hinge on whether Tami can call on some U21 talents who now feature in Ottmar Hitzfeld's senior national team. François Affolter, Moreno Costanzo, Eren Derdiyok, Xherdan Shaqiri and Valentin Stocker all have a good chance of being selected for the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against England on 4 June, but whether they will then head on to Denmark is undecided.
Nonetheless, any uncertainty over squad selections has done little to unsettle the positive vibe among Tami's team. "I feel I am in charge of a sensible group with a positive attitude," said Tami. "That is one of the reasons for our success so far. The team are capable of putting themselves through the mill to help each other out. We have the will and the quality to go far in this competition."
Objective one, though, is to get through Group A. "Our group will be very tricky," said Tami. "Denmark, as the host country, will be very solid and hard to beat; Iceland eliminated Germany in the qualifiers and recently defeated England. As for Belarus, they knocked Italy out in the play-offs." All daunting opponents in their way, but there is a quiet sense of belief about Switzerland that will ensure they are no pushovers either.
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