Wednesday, May 24, 2006

#20: Nati


Where? Central Europe, between France, Germany, Italy and Austria.

How big? A little bigger than Maryland, so pretty small. Population is about the size of Virginia.

Something I learned from the CIA Factbook? Switzerland is old, especially for the kind of government it has. It's a confederation of cantons, but dates back to 1291 - back when every nation was a kingdom. It started as a confederation of just 3 cantons, but now it's 26. Also, military service is compulsory, which I thought was kind of odd for a country that prides itself on neutrality.

Geopolitical significance: It is estimated that over a third of the entire world's private and institutional capital is held by banks in Switzerland, due to the favorable, secret, and stable banking economy. One third of the world's private capital is located in this small country. That's mind blowing to me.

Something fun about Switzerland? Quick hits here: Ricola is actually a mixed up name, coming from the name of the original company and the town it started in: Richterich & Company, Lauten. Swiss Miss? Not Swiss! Created by an Italian-American immigrant from Sicily. And then there's the glacier story. A Swiss ski resort has been wrapping a glacier on its mountain because it has been retreating so rapidly (many believe due to global warming). The wrap is kind of a foil that aims to prevent overmelting in the summer. When they first wrapped the glacier, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, get this, protested because they thought global warming was a bigger issue than just wrapping the glacier. Yeah. Nice job there, way to train your sights on they guys causing the problem.


The Swiss have a middling history in international soccer. In the World Cup's earliest days, Switzerland made the quarterfinals three times, but they've only advanced past the group stage once since 1954 (in the USA '94). The three big neighbors of Switzerland all overshadow them on the pitch though.

Qualifying for the Cup might've been tougher than any other team in the entire tournament. They were drawn in the European Group of Death, along with France, Ireland and upstarts Israel. This group went back and forth the entire time, with only three points separating the top 4 teams. Basically, everyone beat up on Cyprus and the Faeroes, and the rest of the games were close. In fact, three teams didn't lose a game, and the Irish only lost once. The Swiss took second in the group because of goal differential over Israel. Their prize for placing second - possibly the toughest of the playoff teams, 2002 third place finisher Turkey. After winning 2-0 in Bern, the Swiss had to travel to one of Europe's most difficult places to play. They fell 4-2, but those two away goals sent the Swiss through.

The team itself is built with players stationed in many of the top leagues in Europe. One high profile scorer is Alexander Frei, the leading scorer in France's Ligue 1 in 2004-5, and that's typically a league where there are plenty of scorers. Injuries have hurt him lately, including an annoying groin injury.

The one to watch, though not really for aesthics, is the captain, Johann Vogel. He's a defensive midfielder for AC Milan and is prone to play to the back. He's a sharp passer and can take possession away well though. If the Cup ends up a defensive battle, he could be crucial - though this isn't really the group where that should happen.

In fact, the draw has things shaping up to be some of the more attractive soccer in the tournament. Unfortunately, the Swiss are the clodhoppers in a group of ballerinas.

They open against France, and this is bad for the Swiss. France did not score a goal in 2002 while defending their title. That will not happen again. France, actually, I think has the talent to win the Cup. The Swiss don't. Should be fun for fans though. Henry scores, the Swiss are content to lose by one.

Not too down from their opener loss, the Swiss rebound against Togo, scoring twice early, but giving up one late. A 2-1 win.

The Swiss have hopes to qualify for the next round with a win or possibly with a draw against South Korea. The clash of styles doesn't help the Swiss though. Korea uses their speed and quickness advantage and scores twice before conceding one back. 2-1 Korea.

One win, two losses, 3 goals, -1 goal differential. Not a great result, but they probably shouldn't have made it this far either.

If the World Cup were March Madness, the Swiss would be... a small school in a ridiculously good conference that occasionally makes the tournament, but doesn't make many waves. Vanderbilt seems about right.

Can't wait for Chris Berman to do the highlights and throw in a "Ri-GOALLLLLLLLLL-a". No, wait, I think I'd rather shove a hot poker in my eye.