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Hitzfeld calling for World Cup focus

Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld will be telling his players to start concentrating their minds on this summer's FIFA World Cup as they prepare to face Uruguay in Wednesday's warm-up.

Hitzfeld calling for World Cup focus
Hitzfeld calling for World Cup focus ©uefa.com 1998-2012. All rights reserved.

The looming prospect of a FIFA World Cup adventure on South African soil is about to become a whole lot more tangible for Switzerland, with Ottmar Hitzfeld's men due to face fellow finalists Uruguay on Wednesday. For their German coach, the friendly in St Gallen will be the perfect occasion to start concentrating minds on this summer's event.

Having topped their qualifying section to earn a place at the global showcase, Switzerland were drawn into the distinctly Hispanic Group H alongside Spain, Chile and Honduras. Uruguay will therefore provide Hitzfeld and his squad a genuine taste of what they can expect in June, the visitors having recorded a pair of draws with Chile in qualifying. Time, then, to start their World Cup preparations in earnest.

"We must have a clear goal," said Hitzfeld. "That is to be as successful as possible and perform as well as possible. [Working on] the physical side is also very important, but every coach and team knows that and will be working on it. Tactics and technique are key too, but mental strength is more important than everything else, with focus placed on the World Cup."

It is easy to understand why Hitzfeld will be stressing the psychological dimensions of the game, his team having jeopardised their qualification chances with a calamitous start to both their campaign and the 61-year-old's reign. Having replaced Jakob Kuhn after UEFA EURO 2008, the UEFA Champions League-winning coach of both FC Bayern München and BV Borussia Dortmund watched his new team surrender a 2-0 lead in the last 17 minutes to draw 2-2 with Israel – and then lose 2-1 at home to Luxembourg.

"We had problems staying focused," he said. "At the beginning of the qualifiers we underestimated our opponents. The players thought: 'OK, it will work out. We've already appeared at a World Cup and two EUROs, and we're a strong side'. Then came the Luxembourg match. It was good that it happened at the start of the qualifiers because we could still react to it and we managed to do so in a positive way."

The message Hitzfeld has passed on to his charges is that nothing less than their optimum level will suffice. "We've learned," he said. "We had deep discussions with the team about how you have to give 100% in every match. For Switzerland, 80% or 90% is not enough. It might be enough for England, Germany, Italy or Spain, but not for Switzerland. After that, we worked hard and, with a strong will, managed to turn the campaign around. Now we're looking forward to the World Cup."

That is certainly true of Johan Vonlanthen, and the FC Zürich winger – currently on loan from FC Salzburg – paid tribute to Hitzfeld's impact since taking over. "He's a great coach and we learn a lot from him," explained the 24-year-old, already the recipient of 40 caps. "He always has a very positive attitude and a winning mentality. He talks a lot to us and that's what was missing for Switzerland. I think if the team, including all the younger players, manage to adopt that mentality, then Switzerland can improve step by step."