World Cup 2014 Preview: Swiss set sights on second round

May 29, 2014 - 4:50 PM ( - Switzerland will be making its third straight appearance at the World Cup this summer, and for head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld's team, there is a very clear goal in mind.

After reaching the second round in 2006, the Swiss failed to advance past the group stage four years ago despite opening the tournament with a 1-0 win over eventual champions Spain.

The victory over Spain in South Africa was followed by a 1-0 loss to Chile and a 0-0 draw with Honduras, bringing an end to a promising tournament.

Amazingly, Switzerland has conceded just one goal in its last seven World Cup matches, and it is no secret that the strength of Hitzfeld's team will once again be at the back.

Experienced goalkeeper Diego Benaglio will be between the posts, while veteran Philippe Senderos will team with talented youngsters Fabian Schar and Ricardo Rodriguez in defense.

Helping to provide cover for the back four will be Napoli duo Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami, which will make it tough to break down the Swiss.

The team's defensive prowess was on display in qualifying with Switzerland yielding only six goals in 10 matches, including four in one game against Iceland.

Hitzfeld's men cruised to the top of the group by going unbeaten in 10 games, yet their struggles in front of goal surfaced at times as they managed 17 goals in a relatively weak group.

The 65-year-old Hitzfeld has won the Champions League with both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich as a manager, and his side will once again rely on a defensive approach that values stability.

Switzerland's goal of reaching the second round this summer is a very realistic one after the team was drawn into Group E along with France, Ecuador and Honduras.

The French will enter the tournament as favorites to win the group, but things are pretty open after that, with Switzerland and Ecuador likely to be the two teams who battle for second place.

But in order for the Swiss to reach the last 16, Hitzfeld will need to get some offensive production from a group of talented, albeit young, attackers.

Xherdan Shaqiri and Valentin Stocker will provide plenty of pace on the wings, while Granit Xhaka possesses playmaking ability which the team hopes can set up striker Josip Drmic.

The 21-year-old Drmic finished third in the Bundesliga with 17 goals for Nurnberg this past season, earning him a contract with Bayer Leverkusen, and he will need to replicate that sort of output if Switzerland is going to finish in the top two in Group E.

Switzerland's opening match will be pivotal against Ecuador as a win would put them in a great position to advance, while a loss could be tough to overcome.

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