5 Switzerland players to watch at World Cup
GENEVA (AP) Perhaps this is Switzerland's best chance to make an impression at the World Cup.
The Swiss have a talented group of mostly young players who are aiming to give veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld a fitting finale for his career.
Here are five players to watch:
Still only 22, Xherdan Shaqiri should make many lists of potential breakout stars in Brazil.
Shaqiri will be going to his second World Cup with talent that has not yet been fully exposed.
At Bayern Munich, the stocky wide attacker has to wait for his chance in the biggest Champions League matches behind Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Thomas Mueller. In the Bundesliga, Shaqiri is a consistent scorer and assist provider for the runaway champions.
Despite tight and physical marking from opponents in Brazil, Shaqiri has strength and balance to compare with the similarly sized Lionel Messi.
The poor man's Messi? It sounds like an insult, but really isn't.
Switzerland fans have long looked for Gokhan Inler to step up and be ''patron'' of the midfield.
Now captain of the ''Nati,'' Inler has increasingly shown the strength and creativity to dictate play. However, it is an intriguing tussle for central midfield slots among Napoli teammates Inler, Valon Behrami and Blerim Dzemaili.
Behrami and Dzemaili stood out in a 1-0 win over Brazil last August. Inler was benched because he would be suspended for a subsequent World Cup qualifier, so Hitzfeld paired the other two.
Inler soon returned and, celebrating his 30th birthday in Brazil after the group stage ends, should be in his prime.
Switzerland has often seemed to lack a world-class central defender in recent years. Fabian Schaer might be the solution.
The 22-year-old Schaer has impressed in only his second season with Swiss champion FC Basel and since making his international debut against Brazil.
With excellent long-range passing and the composure to take penalties for his club, Schaer has also scored three times in his first three national team matches.
Defensively, Schaer is still developing and has missed valuable playing time with knee and ankle injuries since December.
Schaer has already been linked with Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal and a good World Cup could make him the latest big sale by Basel.
Stephan Lichtsteiner is a modern right-back with old school qualities.
The Juventus player overlaps in attack, gets crosses in, scores his share of goals and does not shirk when the game gets feisty.
Indeed, Lichtsteiner was a big reason that Brazil collectively lost its cool when losing to the Swiss last August.
First-half flashes down Lichtsteiner's right flank irked Neymar and Marcelo and let Switzerland know it had got under the skin of the World Cup hosts.
A big-game attitude developed with the Italian champions should serve Switzerland's needs well.
Central striker might be the one position coach Ottmar Hitzfeld was most undecided about.
Josip Drmic could provide a well-timed solution, having scored 17 Bundesliga goals for relegated Nuremberg.
Haris Seferovic was the No. 9 Hitzfeld thought he had. The Real Sociedad forward earned a run of selections by scoring a 90th-minute winner against Cyprus in qualifying last June.
Seferovic led the attack well in remaining qualifiers but did not add to his tally. Then he spent the night of his 22nd birthday in February in a Spanish police cell with his wife after a public disturbance.
Two weeks later, Hitzfeld gave Drmic another chance in a friendly against Croatia, and the 21-year-old forward scored twice.
Boosted by his big money move to Bayer Leverkusen, Drmic's World Cup time looks to have come.