Switzerland missed out on automatic qualification for the World Cup only due to goal differential, and it impressed in reaching Russia. But will a tough group mean an early exit for the Swiss?
There are few groups at the 2018 World Cup that scream "a fight for second place" quite as much as Switzerland's Group E.
The Swiss will be eager to write the wrongs from their penalty shootout exit from the round of 16 at the European Championship two years ago against Poland, but they'll have to do so in a group that contains odds-on favorite Brazil, 2014 World Cup surprise Costa Rica and stout UEFA foe Serbia.
Vladimir Petković's team was brilliant in qualifying and will be hoping that form will carry over to Russia. Here's what you need to know about Switzerland entering the World Cup.
How They Qualified
To say that Switzerland had a bit of an unnecessarily long and tense journey to the World Cup would be putting it mildly at best.
Petković's side finished its qualifying campaign level on points with Group B favorite and Euro 2016 champion Portugal. But the 15 goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo helped Portugal to a +28 goal differential, ensuring that the Swiss finished in second place on goal difference despite going 9-0-0 until its 2-0 finale loss to Portugal in Lisbon.
This meant that a two-legged knockout tie would determine if it qualified for the World Cup. Northern Ireland stood in Switzerland's way, and after a narrow 1-0 win at Windsor Park thanks to a controversial Ricardo Rodríguez penalty, the Swiss held out for a stalemate in Basel to book their place at the World Cup.
Group Stage Games
Switzerland will be part of Group E, with their first match against Brazil on June 17. Matches against Serbia and Costa Rica will then follow for the Swiss on June 22 and June 27, respectively.
Second place in Group E is seemingly up for grabs, and although Serbia is already being tipped as a potential dark horse, Switzerland will be confident that it can reach the knockout stage of the competition.
Possible Route to the Final
As if Switzerland's passage out of their group isn't hard enough, it possible route to the final will prove to be even tougher.
A potential last-16 matchup against Germany is likely to be in the cards for Switzerland if finishes in second behind expected group winner Brazil.
England or Belgium would be the most likely to await in a possible quarterfinal, and either Argentina or Spain would be Switzerland's most likely opponents if they were to reach the semifinals of the World Cup this summer, with a place in the final up for grabs in early July. Spain wouldn't intimidate Switzerland. The Swiss dealt La Furia Roja a loss to open the 2010 World Cup Spain eventually went on to win, and in a pre-World Cup friendly, Switzerland held Spain to a 1-1 draw.
Provisional Squad List
Goalkeepers: Roman Burki (Borussia Dortmund), Yvon Mvogo (RB Leipzig), Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Defenders: Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund), Johan Djourou (Antalyaspor), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Monchengladbach), Michael Lang (FC Basel), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Jacques-Francois Moubandje (Toulouse), Ricardo Rodriguez (AC Milan), Fabian Schar (Deportivo La Coruna)
Midfielders: Valon Behrami (Udinese), Blerim Dzemaili (Bologna), Gelson Fernandes (Eintracht Frankfurt), Remo Freuler (Atalanta), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Steven Zuber (Hoffenheim), Denis Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Forwards: Josip Drmic (Borussia Monchengladbach), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Mario Gavranovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Haris Seferovic (Benfica)
(4-2-3-1): Roman Bürki; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Manuel Akanji, Nico Elvedi, Ricardo Rodríguez; Granit Xhaka, Denis Zakaria; Xherdan Shaqiri, Blerim Dzemaili, Steven Zuber; Breel Embolo.
Given the group that Switzerland has been drawn into, just reaching the knockout stages would be seen as an achievement for a side that blends youth with experience.
There will be a huge emphasis on the likes of Granit Xhaka–who avoided a serious injury after a training incident–and Xherdan Shaqiri to really step up in Russia, while veteran players like Johan Djourou, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Blerim Dzemaili have to help the younger players adapt to the biggest stage of them all. If there's a breakout star in the Swiss ranks, it's 21-year-old forward Breel Embolo, who is coming off a disappointingly low goal-scoring season with Schalke.
Although the odds aren't fully in Switzerland's favor this summer, it's a side with vast experience and quality, and one that can't be underestimated in Russia.