It was probably a major surprise to everyone in the world outside of Switzerland when they were announced as one of the top 8 seeds for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, leaving traditional footballing nations such as England, France, Holland, Portugal, Russia and Italy in the unseeded European pot.
On current FIFA world rankings Switzerland are 8th and England are 13th. In the past, England have shunned these rankings as irrelevant but unfortunately for England the Swiss did not and have now taken advantage of the points system. It’s also unfortunate for England that the Football Association did not take much notice of how the ranking points are gained and will look back with regret that friendly games played against Scotland and the Republic of Ireland this year were not against tougher, higher ranked opposition.
Leaving the FIFA rankings aside for a moment, what about the actual footballing capabilities of the two nations? On recent match ups it’s clearly England who are the better side. Not only do the results back this up but also the performances in most of these games favoured England in terms of possession, shots on target etc.
Last 5 results between the two teams:
England W3 D2 L0
Switzerland W0 D2 L3
The last 5 results against all opposition are quite similar with England facing far tougher teams than the Swiss. With the exception of Brazil, Switzerland has only faced teams below the top 25. Since that fortunate result back in August against Brazil, winning with an own goal from Dani Alves, the Swiss have drawn 1 and won 3 of their World Cup qualifying games against Iceland, Norway, Albania and Slovenia respectively. They lost their recent friendly match in South Korea.
England on the other hand has faced 3 teams in the top 20 in their last 5 matches. Following the draw with Ukraine in September, they have won two and lost two against Montenegro, Poland, Chile and Germany respectively. However, most importantly, they lost two of these matches against the higher ranked teams and drew a third, only beating the 53rd and 79th ranked sides.
In terms of overall history, the nations have met 12 times in total with Switzerland beating England only once, in the World Cup qualifying campaign in 1982 (England still qualified and Switzerland did not). Past tournament successes significantly favour England at full international level with England’s 4th place 23 years ago being their best recent achievement. At youth level however it is the Swiss who take the recent honors with their excellent U17 World Cup victory 4 years ago and the second place in the European U21 tournament 2 years ago. The current Swiss national team is well represented by players from these youth tournaments, so their golden generation has in many ways now achieved fulfillment of their promise shown back in 2009. England on the other hand has no real evidence of a successful youth system that will translate into senior success. Despite having a population 7 times that of Switzerland, the number of players coming through to full international level from the youth sides is slow and of inconsistent quality.
In a poll of the Swiss public in the 20 minutes newspaper this morning, the majority of voters chose England as their preferred opposition from the unseeded European Pot. This is probably the greatest indication that England’s footballing heritage is well and truly forgotten outside of its own shores.
Full International and Youth level Tournament successes
FIFA World Cup - 1966 Winners and 1990, 4th place
European Championship – 1968, 3rd place
FIFA U20 World Cup 1993 - 3rd place
UEFA U21 European Championship 1982 and 1984 – Winners (runners up in 2009)
FIFA U17 World Cup 2009 – Winners
UEFA U21 European Championship 2011 - runners up