Sat, Jun 04, 2011 - Page 18 News List

Do not underestimate the ‘Schweizer Nati’: Joe Hart

AFP, LONDON

England goalkeeper Joe Hart has warned his teammates not to underestimate struggling Switzerland in today’s Euro 2012 qualifier at Wembley.

Fabio Capello’s side are favorites to beat the Euro 2008 co-hosts on home soil after winning 3-1 in Basel last year, but Hart believes the underdogs will be highly motivated to claim a major scalp at one of the world’s most famous stadiums.

Although England sit on top of Group G at the halfway stage of the qualifying schedule, there is no margin for error for Hart and company as they prepare to sign off for their summer holidays.

The Manchester City star knows England can’t afford to drop points against Switzerland as they lead the table ahead of Montenegro only on goal-difference with the second placed side likely to win at home to Bulgaria this weekend and he warned against any complacency.

“I don’t know if beating them earlier in the season gives us a psychological edge,” Hart said. “We know full well when teams come to Wembley it is a huge day for them, no matter what. It is a great occasion in a great stadium and they are playing against a good team. They will be doing everything they can. We have to be ready for them. England are expected to win every game. If we were playing a team with 500 people in it, we would still be expected to win at Wembley. Nothing changes there.”

Hart is right to be on his guard as England’s last outing — a 1-1 friendly draw against Ghana — suggested Capello’s side are still very much a work in progress.

Their cause is not helped by the absence of two key players — suspended striker Wayne Rooney and injured midfielder Steven Gerrard.

With Rooney sidelined, Capello is likely to bring in Theo Walcott on the right of a three-man attack, featuring in-form Darren Bent in the central role and Aston Villa colleague Ashley Young on the left.

Capello’s midfield should be the same three that dominated in their last qualifier against Wales, meaning Scott Parker will once again play the holding role behind Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere.

In defense, deposed skipper Rio Ferdinand should play alongside John Terry for the first time since the Chelsea man was given back the armband at his old mate’s expense.

Since Capello’s team won in Basel in September, Switzerland have been hit by the retirements of strikers Alexander Frei and Marco Streller.

Frei, who served as Ottmar Hitzfeld’s captain, was Switzerland’s all-time leading scorer with 42 goals in 84 appearances and his absence has been keenly felt by a team that shocked eventual champions Spain at last year’s World Cup.

The 31-year-old claimed his departure was partly in response to jeering and abuse from fans unhappy at their team’s poor start to the qualifying campaign.

A 0-0 draw with Bulgaria in their last qualifier left Switzerland on four points and they must beat England, who sit six points ahead of them, to have any chance of reaching the finals in Poland and Ukraine.

That 1-0 victory over Spain in the group stages in South Africa underlined the danger Switzerland could pose if Capello’s players are not fully focused.

With the end of a grueling season in sight, England’s players need to summon up one last burst of energy and young Arsenal midfielder Wilshere, fast developing into the new star of Capello’s team, is adamant that will not be a problem for a squad refreshed by an injection of new blood since their World Cup flop.

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