Hosts rely on Tranquillo | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 07, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 07, 2008

UEFA Euro 2008 Austria-SwitzerlandSwitzerland v Czech Republic

Hosts rely on Tranquillo


Swiss star Tranquillo Barnetta (front) and teammate Eren Derdiyok run during a training session in Freienbach on Thursday.Photo: AFP

Switzerland kick off Euro 2008 on Saturday with a tough opening match against the Czech Republic and the hopes of the joint hosts resting heavily on the slim shoulders of Tranquillo Barnetta.
The Bayer Leverkusen playmaker, an impish figure with a destructive turn of pace, has taken over from striker Alexander Frei as the star of the Swiss squad.
The extent to which he lives up to that billing looks set to play a central role in determining the fate of Kobi Kuhn's side's bid to ensure they advance at least to the quarterfinals from a first-round group that also includes Portugal and Turkey.
Kuhn, who has had to cope with his wife being hospitalised and placed in an artificial coma following an epileptic fit earlier this week, knows opponents will find it difficult to score against his side, particularly now that Lyon centreback Patrick Muller is back in the fold, barely six months after undergoing cruciate ligament surgery.
But the Swiss rely heavily on Barnetta for their creative spark, which explains why alarm bells started ringing when the 23-year-old suffered a training ground ankle injury two weeks ago.
He has since returned to full training and will take up his familiar slot on the left of midfield in Basel's St-Jakob Park stadium on Saturday evening.
Barnetta is one of a group of young stars for whom Euro 2008 could represent a ticket to one of Europe's big clubs. But he insists personal ambition must take a back seat as the Swiss seek to at least match their performance at the last World Cup, where they went out on penalties to the Ukraine in the second round without having conceded a goal.
"You can't think about that sort of thing," he said. "You have to play for the team and if we have success everything else follows. If we get through the group it will be good for all the players, not just me."
Barnetta also dismissed suggestions that he may still be feeling the knock on his ankle. "I didn't train for two weeks, but, at the end of a long season, that is not necessarily a bad thing. I'm feeling fresh and ready to go."
The Czechs have been weakened by the loss of captain and playmaker, Tomas Rosicky, to injury but a side currently ranked sixth in the world will still expect to inflict a heavy blow on Swiss morale.
Rosicky's Arsenal teammate, the Swiss defender Philippe Senderos, recognises that Saturday's encounter holds the key to Swiss hopes.
"We have been waiting for this moment for so long -- now it is here, hopefully we can make the country proud," Senderos said.
"We know we are capable of that. Of course there is pressure on us but there is also a real desire to show what we are capable of."
With Barnetta charged with generating openings, the responsibility for finishing rests largely with Borussia Dortmund's Frei, the Swiss captain who has bagged a remarkable 35 goals in his 59 international appearances.
The 28-year-old is looking forward to a reunion with Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, a former teammate from their days at French club Rennes.
Cech's form is perceived to have dipped fractionally since he suffered a fractured skull at the end of 2006, an injury which has resulted in him having to wear an ice hockey helmet during matches.
But Frei remains an ardent admirer. "Petr could play with a motorbike helmet on and he would still be one of the best in the world. You know you have done a good job if you score against him."
Despite the Czechs' perceived superiority, Cech admits Saturday's encounter in the special atmosphere of a tournament opening match could be tricky.
"A lot will depend on how they (the Swiss) cope with the pressure," Cech said. "We saw with Germany at the last World Cup how the fans can motivate a host team. But the opposite can also happen. It can all get too much for them, like we saw when Portugal lost the final to Greece in 2004."

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