Swiss coach Jakob Kuhn has challenged his demoralized squad to exit Euro 2008 on a high with a strong performance against Portugal today.
With Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo hitting form early on, the Portuguese have confirmed their credentials as one of the favorites to win the tournament.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad have already booked their place in the quarter-finals after comfortable wins over Turkey and the Czech Republic and are certain to top Group A.
That puts them in line for a quarter-final clash with Germany, Poland or Austria in Basel next Thursday. Scolari, who is looking to add a Euro title to the World Cup triumph he delivered for Brazil in 2002, will have the luxury of being able to ensure his key players are as fresh as possible for that match by resting them this weekend.
The Portuguese have been keeping a low profile this week, with Scolari anxious to avoid the distraction of a grilling over his plans for Chelsea, where he will take up the manager’s role after his work in Switzerland and Austria is done.
The Swiss, meanwhile, have been coming to terms with the bitter disappointment of a first round exit, perhaps made all the more painful by the fact that neighbors and co-hosts Austria have retained a fighting chance of making it into the knockout stages.
Kuhn’s men did not get the breaks that would have helped them avoid defeats against both the Czechs and the Turks, and injuries to key players did not help their cause.
“It is hard to think that it is all going to be over for us on Sunday,” said the veteran manager, for whom it will be particularly emotional as he is due to retire from professional soccer. “I think we did as well as could have been expected in difficult circumstances, but with a little bit more luck it could have been much better, so that is hard to bear.”
“Now we have to look forward. The Swiss supporters, who have been fantastic, deserve a high quality match and we will try to give them that,” Kuhn said. “I’ve no idea what Portugal will do, but we intend to field a strong team and the attitude from the players has been good. They want to finish on a high.”
Kuhn has spent seven years in charge of the Swiss, the high-point coming when he led them to the second round of the last World Cup, where they went out on penalties to the Ukraine having not conceded a single goal in their four matches.
He is to be replaced by former Bayern Munich boss Ottmar Hitzfeld, who will inherit a squad with some promising young talent in midfield — Tranquillo Barnetta, Valon Behrami and Johan Vonlanthen — but short on top quality forwards.
Vonlanthen will be hoping to start today’s match after being used as an impact substitute in the first two games.
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