Called to succeed Ottmar Hitzfeld at the head of Switzerland in 2014, Vladimir Petković knew he was expected at the turn. The 57-year-old technician has proven himself, to the point that his leaders recently extended his contract until the end of 2022.
Under the leadership of Petković who, eight months before taking over the destiny of Born, led Lazio in Italian Serie A, Switzerland validated their ticket for UEFA EURO 2016 in France and then for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia ™. Each time, frustrating defeats prevented the Confederates to pass the round of 16, against Poland (1-1 then 5-4 on penalties) in France, and against Sweden (0-1) in Russia.
As the draw for the European qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 ™ looms on the horizon, Switzerland coach answers questions from FIFA.com.
Mr Petković, what is your assessment of the year 2020?
It is a date that will go down in history. The whole world has been taken aback by a terrible pandemic and football is no exception. Personally, I take life as it comes and try to make the most of it. After a long hiatus, we ended up with eight games scheduled in just under three months. We therefore went through a period of intense work, but also very instructive. We have faced great European nations in the UEFA Nations League. The results could have been better but, against Germany and Spain, we saw that we had the qualities required to take the game on our own and compete with the best.
Has your job as a breeder been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?
We have gone through a long period without gatherings or matches. In the end, we were only active for three months. In order to maintain contact between the technical team and the players, we have organized digital meetings. Sometimes it was just for the pleasure of seeing each other and having a toast virtually together. I talked a lot on the phone with my internationals. I also followed their matches, but more on television than live in the stadium. Players have become accustomed to this new way of working. On the technical side, we had to implement in a short time things that were not really possible before. But, like I said, I tend to take it as it is and adapt.
What do you expect from 2021 and what are your ambitions for UEFA EURO?
The program promises to be busy. It’s fine with us and we hope that soon we can live and play football as we did before the pandemic. We have invested a lot in our League of Nations campaign, to prepare for the EURO. We want to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar and go as far as possible in the EURO finals. With a team like mine, anything is possible. If all goes well for us, we have the means to achieve something interesting.
With Italy, Turkey and Wales, how do you judge the level of your group at EURO?
These are three quality opponents. But we have no reason to be complex. We will play every game with the ambition to win. The Italians and the Turks will have a small advantage because they will have “home” matches, the former in Rome and the latter in Baku. Our first objective will be to get out of this group.
Germany conceded a heavy defeat against Spain (6-0), whereas shortly before, you had held in check the Roja (1-1). How do you explain these results?
When Germany loses 6-0, it’s always a surprise. But we must not forget that not so long ago, she beat Brazil 7-1. In football, everything goes very quickly. There are days when everything seems easy. These are things that happen, especially nowadays when teams do not hesitate to experiment with a view to EURO or qualifying for the World Cup. This result proves that the Spaniards are very strong and that their project is progressing well. It also sheds another light on the 1-1 draw we had achieved three days earlier against these same Spaniards. At the time, however, some had judged us harshly.
In September and October, you also had two draws against Germany. What conclusions do you draw from this performance?
We have always said that we do not have to be ashamed of the comparison with any opponent. Our internationals play in the best championships in the world, where they regularly rub shoulders with players from Germany. We got closer to the very high level. These draws are proof, but we have also seen that we still lack a little something to tip the scales in our favor in these meetings.
In the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, is there an opponent you would like to avoid?
A World Cup draw is not a wish list. In the first hat, all the teams are formidable. There are also very good teams in the second and third. As always, we’ll take things as they come, counting on a little help from fate, hoping that our performances will allow us to qualify. We are very confident and we believe in our chances. Qualifying will nevertheless be more difficult than ever because only the first of each group and the three best second will represent Europe.
Does the Covid-19 pandemic affect the results and can it lead to surprises?
No, I do not think so. The pandemic affects everyone. All federations and all teams face the same difficulties. In the League of Nations, everyone had to learn to face this new situation. On the other hand, we have seen that some nations could still improve in their management of the crisis.
How do you see the 2022 World Cup which will take place in winter?
Preparation will be cut short, but the World Cup will take place in winter, which means players will be less tired than usual. Those who play in big clubs are generally very busy throughout the season. So I expect the intensity and quality of matches to reach new heights. The coaches and the teams will have to adapt to this new context if they want to have a good World Cup. For the Swiss fans who will stay in the country, that means that it will probably be necessary to attend the public broadcasts indoors, rather than outdoors, on a beautiful summer evening. Conversely, those who live in the southern hemisphere will experience a World Cup in the middle of summer.
Switzerland have reached the round of 16 in the last four World Cups. Can you do even better in 2022?
In any case, we are working on it. We are always looking to progress, step by step. To start, you must already qualify. Then we will try to get through the group stage. Finally, we will do our best to ensure that our trip to Qatar includes many other stages.