Champs or chumps? The 2008 European football championships finally kick off on June 7 when Switzerland meet the Czech Republic in the tournament's opening match in Basel. Not content at merely being good hosts, the Swiss team have said they want to win the event. Current form suggests however that the Alpine nation will have a mountain to climb.

Author:Ledsom, Mark
Position:SPORTS - Cover story
 
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Switzerland coach Kobi Kuhn must surely regret the day back in 2001 when he sketched out his ambitious plans for Euro 2008, or at least wish those plans had never become public. Penned as part of his application for the job, before Switzerland even knew they would host the event, Kuhn set out his blueprint for developing the national team over the coming seven years. The title simply read: European Champions 2008.

Kuhn has since tried to put that title into context, explaining that he wanted to set the highest target for his team and that they will be trying to win the tournament but never said they expected to win it. Nevertheless Kuhn's ambition has raised eyebrows in a country that often seems to prize unobtrusiveness over boldness.

As the coach prepares for his last tournament before taking retirement, the national team's recent performances have suggested that he could be going out with a whimper rather than a bang.

Eighteen months ago things were looking considerably brighter for the Swiss. After having already qualified for the 2004 European Championships (for only the second time in their history), the Swiss made it two major tournaments in a row when they then reached the 2006 World Cup--coming through a reasonably tough qualifying group that included France, the Republic of Ireland and the rapidly improving Israel.

After mostly just making up the numbers in 2004, Kuhn's men showed clear improvement at the World Cup, drawing 0-0 against eventual runners-up France and going on to reach the tournament's second round.

Despite going out to Ukraine when another goalless draw ended in a miserable penalty shootout, the Swiss could at least take pride in becoming the first team to exit the tournament without conceding a goal. The watching population back home certainly seemed to have been impressed, voting Kuhn as 'Swiss Personality of the Year' a few months later.

Having acquitted themselves so well on the international stage, many of Switzerland's top players were snapped up by top clubs around Europe. With so much young talent being given the chance to improve even further in the continent's top leagues, many fans felt that Euro 2008 was coming along at exactly the right moment.

Abject performance

It only took a few weeks for that impression to fade. In February 2007 Switzerland suffered a 5-1 defeat away to Germany that was worrying not so much because of the score line, but because of the abject nature of the team's performance. Suspicions that the mood within the team was not as healthy as previously thought were confirmed when Kuhn decided to axe captain Johann Vogel from the team's tour to the United States "because the chemistry was no longer right, both on the pitch and off it".

For a while it seemed as if the ousting of Vogel had breathed some flesh air into the team. Even with new captain Alex Frei missing through injury the team registered two impressive results in...

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