Between 1966 and 2006, Switzerland only graced one FIFA World Cup – the United States edition in 1994 – but have now reached the finals for the third successive time following their qualification-clinching 2-1 win in Albania on Friday.
Switzerland ground out victory on a difficult pitch, sealing top spot in Group E courtesy of second-half goals from Xherdan Shaqiri and defender Michael Lang, the latter's strike ensuring a late Hamdi Salihi penalty amounted to nothing more than consolation for the hosts.
"I have to thank the team and my staff," said Nati coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. "Thanks must also go to [Swiss Football Association president] Peter Gilliéron for giving me another chance after missing out on qualification for EURO 2012."
Hitzfeld's side demonstrated their qualities in the fervent atmosphere of Tirana's Stadiumi Kombëtar Qemal Stafa. Perhaps no-one embodies the will and desire of his players as much as Xherdan Shaqiri, whose determination to play on with a thigh problem was rewarded when he opened the scoring in the 47th minute. "I congratulate him for his important goal," Hitzfeld added. "Even though he was struggling, he went back on to the pitch after the interval."
It is the first time Switzerland have sealed qualification with a match to spare, and while fans and media at home made the team favourites to top the section before it started 13 months ago, the satisfaction among the squad was palpable nonetheless. "We are glad we qualified early and don't have a difficult match against Slovenia coming up," Hitzfeld continued.
Shaqiri added: "We were happy when the match was finally over and we had done it. It is a huge feeling for all of us. We are very hungry to play at the World Cup. You could see that we have a great team and we will also play good football in Brazil and hopefully make an impact there."
Brazil already has a special place in Lang's heart. The 22-year old Grasshopper-Club player won his first and, until Friday, only cap in a 1-0 friendly victory against the Seleção in August. "It was a very intense match, but, in the end, we made it exciting again," he said. "I could hardly believe it when I scored; the first two or three seconds were like a flash. The team has worked hard for this and now we will enjoy the moment and celebrate."
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