Switzerland's hopes of reaching the FIFA World Cup looked slim after losing at home to Luxembourg early in qualifying. However, after recovering to steer the Nati to South Africa as Group 2 winners, coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is looking forward to the finals, even if his side's opening test in Group H is against the European champions Spain on Wednesday. "Little Switzerland could annoy the favourites," he told UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: Switzerland qualified for the World Cup as group winners. It was difficult, you lost to Luxembourg, but you made it through in the end. How would you describe the performance of the team during qualifying?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: We learned from it. We conceded two goals in the last ten minutes against Israel and drew 2-2 – and then lost to Luxembourg. And we then had long discussions with the team, saying that you have to give 100% in every qualification match – and for Switzerland, 80% or 90% is not enough. This might be enough for England, Germany, Italy or Spain, but not for Switzerland. And then we focused and worked hard, and with a strong will we managed to turn around the qualification campaign – and now we are looking forward to the World Cup.
UEFA.com: So the mental aspect was more important than the match itself?
Hitzfeld: I think we had problems staying focused and at the beginning of the qualification phase we underestimated our opponents. The players thought: 'OK, it will work out, and we have already participated at two World Cups and EUROs, and we are a strong side'. Then the match against Luxembourg came and it was good that it happened at the beginning of the qualification phase, because then you can still react to it, and we gave a positive reaction.
UEFA.com: What do you think are the key points for successful preparation? What is the most important thing?
Hitzfeld: I think the most important thing is that the squad, the 23 players, create a real unity, that all the players form a team, not one individual here and another one there – that everyone does what he thinks is important, but we also need to be united as a team. We must go on to the pitch as a team, not only the players but the physios, the medical staff, press and delegates. All together we must be a team, we must form a real unit, we must have a clear goal; that is to be as successful as possible and perform as well as possible. The physical aspect is also very important, but every coach and team know and do that. Tactics and technique are also very important but mental strength is even more important, the focus on the World Cup.
UEFA.com:Regarding the preparation, it seems there's no better way to do it than by starting against Spain. What will you do against Spain in the first game?
Hitzfeld: We have our first highlight against Spain, the European Champions. They had a great qualifying campaign, and they are the defending European champions; it is a great challenge and opportunity for us. Spain are the favourites and everyone says that Spain will win anyway, so this might be where we get our opportunity.
Little Switzerland could annoy the favourites. We will give everything and try everything to create a surprise.
UEFA.com: You have been so successful and had so many experiences, but this will be your first World Cup. How do you feel about that?
Hitzfeld: Well, it is a dream come true for me, flying to South Africa and representing Switzerland as a national coach – I am very proud and satisfied about that. It is a great challenge for me, this first World Cup, and in addition, it is in South Africa, on a continent that has never hosted a World Cup. The South Africans will welcome all the teams with a lot of emotion. I'm looking forward to this great football celebration.
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