July 2, 2018 / 5:07 PM / 17 days ago

Cultural diversity is secret to Swiss success, says coach

ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) - Switzerland draw strength from the cultural diversity in their squad and welcome any talk from their opponents of them being one of the weaker teams in the World Cup, their coach Vladimir Petkovic said on Monday.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Switzerland Training - Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia - July 2, 2018 Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic instructs players during training REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

The Swiss play Sweden in the round of 16 in St Petersburg on Tuesday in what has been perceived as being the easier half of the draw, especially after Spain’s elimination by Russia in a penalty shootout on Sunday.

If the Swiss beat Sweden, a quarter-final with either England or Colombia beckons for Petkovic’s team, whose stand-out talents include several second-generation immigrants such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka.

“We have managed to bring together different cultures, different talents, different ideologies and they help us to play really good football,” Petkovic told a news conference.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Switzerland Training - Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia - July 2, 2018 Switzerland's Gelson Fernandes, Blerim Dzemaili and Valon Behrami during training REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

“We have a team where the chemistry is right, that really goes together, and this is a guarantee for success.”

Shaqiri and Xhaka, who are ethnic Albanians and of Kosovar heritage, were fined by FIFA after they celebrated scoring in the politically charged 2-1 win over Serbia in the group stages with a gesture that appeared to imitate the eagle displayed on Albania’s flag.

Petkovic did not comment on the fines, but did fire a warning at any future opponents, saying reaching the quarter-finals, which the Swiss last did at their home World Cup in 1954, was not the limit of his team’s ambitions.

“What you’ve seen throughout the tournament is that we have been playing really well,” he added. “Sweden qualified, they have kicked out Italy (from the qualifiers) and have progressed quickly. These are not weak opponents... We can be a surprise to those who underestimate us.

“We want to win (tomorrow) but I don’t think that should be our final objective.”

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Petkovic predicted the Sweden game would have few clear-cut scoring chances, and said Switzerland would need to start well and be clinical.

“We have to be ready to play from the get-go to have the initiative on our side. We want to use our quality to control the game,” he said.

“We’ve been more dangerous in the second half of games but this time we want to keep that pressure up right from the get-go and I think that’s going to happen.

“We have to be very specific, because tomorrow I’m sure there will not be many goal-scoring opportunities for us.”

Switzerland will be without centre back Fabian Schar and skipper Stephan Lichtsteiner, who are both suspended, with veteran Johan Djourou likely to start in the heart of defence.

“For our team every missing player is a loss, but at the same time we have a total of 23 in our squad,” the coach added. “I can rely on all of them and I’m quite confident that the two who replace them will play just as well.”

Reporting by Simon Jennings in St Petersburg, editing by Neil Robinson

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