The German national team will take on Switzerland for the second time in the Nations League on Tuesday (kickoff 20:45 CEST). After the 1-1 draw in Basel in the first meeting, Germany will host the Swiss side in Cologne. Ottmar Hitzfeld, who enjoyed both a playing and coaching career in each of the countries, spoke to DFB.de about the upcoming game as well as the relationship between the two nations.
DFB.de: Mr. Hitzfeld, is Germany against Switzerland a special fixture?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: It’s definitely a special game for me. I’m almost half Swiss now, even though recently I’ve been more German. I grew up only 100 metres from the Swiss border and cross over often – I have a close relationship with the country. I started my playing career there with FC Basel, and ended my coaching career in charge of Switzerland in 2014, so of course there’s a link.
DFB.de: Which team do you get behind more?
Hitzfeld: I’m quite neutral, like when Dortmund play Bayern. I just want to see a good game. I have a lot of feelings for both teams and am hoping for an exciting game.
DFB.de: What shaped you more: your time in charge of Dortmund and Bayern, or your role as head coach of Switzerland between 2008 and 2014?
Hitzfeld: I was lucky enough to be given a chance at FC Basel as a player – I called them up – and did everything I could. I’m very grateful to FC Basel for making it possible for me to start a professional football career. My coaching career also began in Switzerland…
DFB.de: …in 1983 with SC Zug.
Hitzfeld: Of course it all has an influence, and I have a strong connection to both countries. At Dortmund and Bayern, I was able to fulfil my dreams. I spent a long time there: six years in Dortmund and seven and a half in Munich.
DFB.de: You know each nation’s football inside out. How does the game vary in the two countries?
Hitzfeld: The football in both countries is of a very high level tactically, and both have good training programmes for coaches. In 1990 when Germany won the World Cup using a Libero and man marking, I was playing with zonal marking and a back four at Grasshopper Zurich in Switzerland. Due to the presence of German, Italian and French in Swiss culture, three different countries have influenced the philosophy of Swiss football.
DFB.de: What are those influences?
Hitzfeld: The French always defend with a flat defensive line, the Italians have their Catenaccio, and there are also aspects from the Bundesliga. Therefore, the Swiss are very adaptable and do well. When a club signs a Swiss player, they know that they are getting a player who is well coached and easy to work with, that they have a good mentality. The multilingualism helps too.
DFB.de: What differences exist?
Hitzfeld: Germany is huge and has a population 10 times as big as Switzerland’s. Germany also have a lot more self-confidence. The children of migrant families in Switzerland have increased the country’s belief in the national team – they are good footballers and can make professional careers for themselves. In the past, Switzerland had a complex against Germany, and saw them self as a state of Germany. Nowadays however, that has changed.
DFB.de: The head-to-head between the two sides reads 35 victories for Germany, nine for Switzerland, and seven draws. Does this reflect the performance of both teams throughout history?
Hitzfeld: Absolutely. If Switzerland can beat Germany, it’s always a surprise.
DFB.de: Germany’s first ever international game took place against Switzerland, a 5-3 loss on 5th April 1908. Did that game ever come up during your career?
Hitzfeld: No, never. It’s too long ago – it doesn’t have much importance among today’s generation.
DFB.de: Are there any games between the two countries that immediately spring to mind?
Hitzfeld: The 5-0 defeat in England at the 1966 World Cup. This was a legendary match and was talked about for years after. The scoreline was a real punishment for the Swiss side.
DFB.de: You beat Germany 5-3 on 26th May 2012 as the Swiss national coach in Basel, just before the Euros in Poland and Ukraine. What did this win mean to you?
Hitzfeld: It was one of my best wins with the national team, although it was only a friendly. It was a great experience to hear the German national anthem and to play against a big country. This match was one of the highlights of my career.
DFB.de: Were you especially motivated that day?
Hitzfeld: Playing against Germany was a special moment – I had my family and friends there too. I knew that a lot of people would be following this match. It was a like personal battle for me.
DFB.de: How do you think both sides are doing at the moment?
Hitzfeld: Both sides are rebuilding and are trying out new things. Friendlies are important for the coaches but not for the fans. I think the Nations League is a good tournament and it’s better than just having friendlies. There are results and a table, so that the games are taking more seriously than a friendly.
DFB.de: Which Swiss players have a big career ahead of them?
Hitzfeld: Shaqiri is the best player, but he’s missing. Xhaka is a great player and a regular at Arsenal. I called him up when he was just 18. Saw in midfield is also a good player.
DFB.de: The most recent meeting ended 1-1 in the Nations League. What did you think about that game?
Hitzfeld: It was an open game and Switzerland could have won it. Germany are still looking for the perfect formation. You need results, which isn’t you can’t underestimate in football. Friendlies are still important when it comes to results.
DFB.de: What are you expecting from the game in Cologne on Tuesday?
Hitzfeld: I expect Germany to try and put the record straight and try to show that they can be one of the big footballing powerhouses again. Switzerland will also play with confidence. If Germany play with their best XI, they are the clear favourites. Switzerland can beat any side on their day though. They are just lacking the consistency to perform at their best in three, four or five consecutive games. Germany have much more class.
DFB.de: How far do you think the two teams will go at the EUROs?
Hitzfeld: Germany are one of the favourites. They have players that know how to win with half the team consisting of Bayern players. Switzerland are good for an upset. They will be happy if they can reach the knockouts.