The Three Lions kick off their campaign to qualify for the 2016 European Championships in France with arguably their toughest fixture against Switzerland in Basel at 11:45 PM (PST) on September 8th. In a relatively easy group that also includes Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino, and Slovenia, the two teams featuring at St. Jakob Park on Monday will be favored to top the group and advance to the final tournament in two years time. Given the new 24-team structure of the European Championship, each group’s best two teams will automatically qualify, along with the best third placed team, with the other eight third-placed teams entering a playoff. This means that either side could falter significantly during qualifying and still make it to France.
England are coming off of a comprehensively underwhelming performance in their 1-0 win against Norway, where debut skipper Wayne Rooney scored a winning penalty despite an abject performance. Such a poor showing following an abysmal failure at this summer’s World Cup will sound alarm bells in the England camp. Their European opener against the Swiss will provide an opportunity to steer England’s wayward ship back on course.
However, Roy Hodgson’s side will be without striker Daniel Sturridge, who tore a thigh muscle in training. Replacing the Liverpool front man will likely be new Arsenal signing Danny Welbeck, who is the most similar forward option within the England setup. There have been calls among many to play Rooney in the center forward role in Sturridge’s absence, but given Hodgson’s track record of deploying his new captain in the number ten position, this seems unlikely, despite his poor performance against the Norwegians at Wembley. Even more unlikely is the possibility of Hodgson dropping Rooney altogether given his stature and newfound captaincy. But as has been an increasingly alarming trend, Rooney’s presence may reduce the effectiveness of the team as a whole.
Switzerland enter this fixture with a new manager, Vladimir Petković, who replaced the retired Ottmar Hitzfeld. After a successful World Cup that saw only saw them eliminated in extra time by finalists Argentina in the Round of 16, the Swiss will see the upcoming Euros as an opportunity to impress at the world stage once more. And at home, many will see them as favorites against a floundering England side. Petković has developed a reputation for attacking football, particularly during his time with Lazio, and will look to make full use of his forward options. Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri and Bayer Leverkusen striker Josip Drmić will look to cause problems in the English defense ahead of a steely midfield that includes the likes of captain Gökhan Inler and Valon Behrami.
The trajectory of the two sides could not be starker. Despite the gulf in history and national reputation, the Swiss will enter the match as favorites at home. And while both teams should still comfortably qualify out of this group regardless of the result, expect a narrow Swiss victory.
Prediction: Switzerland 2 – England 1
The Switzerland vs. England match will be televised on Fox Sports 1 at 11:45PM Pacific Standard Time on Monday, September 8th, 2014.