WORLD CUP FORECAST: Group E - Can Switzerland provide Hitzfeld with a fond farewell?
Switzerland national manager Ottmar Hitzfeld will bring to an end a savagely successful coaching career at the culmination of the 2014 World Cup.
The 65-year old German announced late last year that he will pull the pin on a managerial journey that has seen him win seven Bundesliga titles - five with Bayern Munich and two with Borussia Dortmund - one Champions League trophy (with Bayern), two Swiss Super Leagues (both with Grasshopper) and multiple cups in both Germany and Switzerland.
He has been at the helm of Swiss football since 2008, guiding the team to the finals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they were eliminated at the group stage.
In 2014, Hitzfeld will take with him to Brazil a relatively young squad that appeared to breeze through their modest European qualifying group which included Iceland, Slovenia, Norway, Albania and Cyprus.
While winning the group comfortably, La Nati scored just 17 goals in their 10 outings with defender Fabian Schar at the top of the scorers list with three.
This in itself provides a major problem as it indicates the Swiss lack any quality goalscorers which generally makes it fairly difficult to progress to the latter stages of a World Cup.
Hopefully, on the big stage, they can deliver for Hitzfeld and give the 'The General' the sendoff he so richly deserves by at least making it through to the knockout phase.
Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Fixtures: Ecuador - June 15 (Brasilia), France - June 20 (Salvador), Honduras - June 25 (Manaus)
Past outings against group opponents: Switzerland and Ecuador have never met at senior international level.
The Swiss have taken on neighbours France on 36 occasions, winning 12 times, drawing nine times and losing on 15 occasions. The most recent encounter was at the '06 WC when they held the French to a 0-0 draw in Germany.
Switzerland and Honduras have only came up against each other on one occasion which was at the 2010 World Cup resulting in a 0-0 draw in the group stage.
World Cup utopia: Beating France and topping Group E.
Doomsday scenario: Finishing behind Ecuador and Honduras in the group stage.
Qualified by virtue of: Winning their group in UEFA qualifying.
Best result at a World Cup: Quarter-Finals (1934, 1938, 1954)
As discussed, the biggest issue for Switzerland will be the absence of true scoring power.
Sure, the defence is fairly organized which was evidenced by the fact they only gave away six goals in qualifying you need to put them in at the other end to win games of football.
The four strikers named by Hitzfeld are all unproven at international level but some of them have had decent season at club level with Mario Gavranovic scoring 13 times for Zurich, Admir Mehmedi netting 12 goals for Freiburg and Josip Drmic, who could be their wildcard, slotting home 17 goals for FC Nurnberg despite their relegation battle.
Promising midfielders Shaqiri and Xhaka have an abundance of talent and will need to live up to their potential to give the attackers enough supply while the trusty Inler and Tranquillo Barnetta will provide experience in the middle of the pitch.
With no disrespect to Ecuador and Honduras, it is a blessing in disguise that Switzerland have been drawn in this group because I feel they would battle to get out of any other.
If they can get the better of the Ecuadorians in their opening fixture, then they should not have too many problems at least grabbing a top-two finish in Group E but it is after that where it gets considerably harder for the Swiss.
Prediction: Round of 16.
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