WORLD CUP: Switzerland claiming to be underdogs for France clash

AFP, SALVADOR, Brazil

Fri, Jun 20, 2014 - Page 20

Switzerland are trying to pile the pressure on France by claiming the underdog tag for the Alpine neighbors’ World Cup Group E clash in Salvador, Brazil, today.

Both teams won their openers, with France topping the table after a convincing 3-0 win over Honduras, while Switzerland secured a last-gasp victory over Ecuador.

Super-sub Haris Seferovic netted in the last minute of stoppage-time to claim a 2-1 comeback victory after Switzerland had fallen behind to Enner Valencia’s first-half header.

Sixth-placed Switzerland are 11 places higher than France according to FIFA’s rankings, but insist those standings mean nothing.

“Favorites? You like that word in France, eh?” Switzerland central defender Steve von Bergen said. “It is France who are the favorites.”

Switzerland assistant coach Michel Pont, who celebrated his 60th birthday yesterday, said 1998 World Cup-winners France have the upper hand.

Pont said France coach Didier Deschamps has united his squad after the debacle of their South Africa 2010 campaign, when the team went on strike in support of Nicolas Anelka after a row with then-coach Raymond Domenech.

“Us, favorites? Absolutely not,” said Pont, who has worked under current coach Ottmar Hitzfeld since 2008, as well as his predecessor Jakub Kuhn from 2001 to 2008. “Frankly, the current French team impresses me, they have found harmony. France has always had technical quality, they have simply returned to their normal level, which they never should have left.”

“It’s extremely difficult to find their weak points, it is the first time I have experienced this in 13 years,” he said. “We have to create their weak points, by improvising and taking each chance.We can’t sit back and put 10 players behind the ball, we have to find ways against them.”

Switzerland defender Johan Djourou, who will mark France’s Real Madrid striker Karim Benezema, a two-goal scorer against Honduras, said his side have nothing to fear.

“France are favorites, by the fame of their players, who play in the biggest clubs, but on the day, this is the game that counts, not the name of the player or his club,” said the 27-year-old former Arsenal defender, who is now at Hamburg SV.

France have plenty of options up front with Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud, who spent most of the Honduras game on the bench as 22-year-old Antoine Griezmann shone, eager to start.

Midfielder Yohan Cabaye will not feature after he came off in the Honduras match with a hamstring injury.

Switzerland went through their paces on Wednesday morning in Porto Seguro with Seferovic insisting they have to make a strong start at Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova.

“If we play on the same level as against Ecuador, it will not work,” the 22-year-old said.

France only squeezed into the World Cup finals by narrowly defeating Ukraine in a playoff. Now that they in Brazil, former captain Patrice Evra insisted they are not the faction-riddled outfit from 2010, but rather a untied and cohesive unit.

“We play for the same country and since the playoff in November there has been real pride in wearing the shirt,” the Manchester United star said.