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Facing Portugal, the Swiss U21 team brandishes the cohesion of common experience

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The Swiss team has had a thrilling and contradictory start to the hopeful European Championship. His victory against England (1-0) had inflated his confidence. His defeat against Croatia (3-2) brought him back to earth. At the time of her last match in Group D, this Wednesday at 6 p.m. against Portugal, she remains in control of her destiny: a success would qualify her for sure. A draw combined with a Croatian loss to England would also work.

The first matches: victory against England then defeat against Croatia

Nothing is lost, but everything remains to be faced with a formidable and already qualified formation after having won its first two meetings. Coach Rui Jorge relies in particular on the nuggets Pedro Gonçalves (Sporting Lisbon) and Francisco Trincão (Barcelona). His counterpart Mauro Lustrinelli, he will rely on what makes the strength of his team: the collective.

Against England, the ability of his men to apply a strict and careful game plan led to the feat. Against Croatia, led 3-0 following a multiplication of individual errors, they did not explode and worked together to end the game in “remountada” mode – it came close to that. to make it happen. In both cases, the self-sacrifice of the individuals on the altar of the common result is all the more impressive as the group only meets a few weeks a year.

Time for them

For the main stakeholders, there is no doubt that the cohesion of footballers stems from the excellent understanding of men. “We love each other, that’s all,” smiles captain Jordan Lotomba.

Ask the most prominent players on the team, because they are already playing in a big foreign league, if they feel the responsibility to make a difference; they will all give you more or less the same answer as Andi Zeqiri (Brighton, in the English Premier League): “It is clear that I want to bring the intensity that I discover in a club, but here everyone comes to give the maximum to the group. We dream big, we have ambition, and we know that it is as a team that we will succeed. “

Unanimously praised for his very human management, at ease in the three national languages, coach Mauro Lustrinelli has a great deal of responsibility in building this positive state of mind. He especially insists on the fact that time has not played against his team, on the contrary. “It’s true that we see each other very little, about forty days a year,” he says. But we make sure to live each gathering very intensely. And above all, we’ve been working together for two and a half years! ”

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It was in July 2018 that the Ticino took the reins of the M21. From the first matches he led, he fielded players he would take to Slovenia (Domgjoni, Rüegg, Guillemenot, Sidler, Van der Werff, Toma). But in reality, the common experience of his group goes back even further. It is based on the links forged since the beginning of adolescence by young Swiss talents born in 1998, who are 11 out of 23 at the Euro. “Some of us have been playing together for over ten years. Over such a period, deep links are created. This team is a family, which we are happy to find each time, ”enthuses Jordan Lotomba.

“Never an excuse”

The side of OGC Nice has been a regular in the U16 selections, which he joined in 2014. Other “1998” have been meeting there for two years already, in U15, like Jan Bamert and Jérémy Guillemenot. The Zurich native of Sion and the Genevan of St. Gallen thus shared no less than 34 appearances in the red jersey with a white cross. In different age categories. Under the guidance of various breeders. But always to forge automatisms on the field side and a complicity on the locker room side, together.

Gérard Castella lived part of history as coach of the Swiss U17 team, then U18, then U19. Now responsible for training at Young Boys, the Genevan remembers his feelings perfectly during the first training camp he organized with the 1998 generation, in Spain, in January 2015. “I don’t know how ‘explain, but these guys found each other, what! They had a deep desire to meet again, there was never an excuse to skip the line, never a young person who came dragging his feet… “

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Part of the current team was already there. Others “1998” arrived in the year (Zesiger) or in 2016 (Köhn, Domgjoni). “All of these players have actually played together for a very long time. It’s not the same job as in a club, but over so many years, there are similar connections that settle, ”continues their former coach.

Four years apart

Over time, some “1998” came out of the frame, which was supplemented by young people born later. Last step before the Swiss A team, the Nati of “under 21” is in reality a matter of sporting maturity more than age. In Slovenia, Mauro Lustrinelli brought talents born in 1999, 2000, 2001 and even 2002. Leonidas Stergiou has just celebrated his 19th birthday, while Jérémy Guillemenot is already 23.

But the serene and positive atmosphere established by the oldest has always allowed the new ones to integrate easily. “The team spirit has always been incredible,” says Alexandre Jankewitz, 19, born in 2001 and called to the Under-21 since last September. When a new one arrives, everyone does their best to make them feel comfortable, it’s that easy. ”

At the Swiss Football Association, Gérard Castella also took care of the 1993 (Widmer, Ajeti) and 1995 (Mbabu) generations. For him, no doubt, the 1998 is special. Above, too. “She did not manage to qualify for the Euro in either U17 or U19, but the potential was already there,” he said. Mauro Lustrinelli, for his part, succeeded in giving his team the confidence necessary to pass a course, in particular by signing memorable victories, as against France in qualifying. “It is clear that as a team, we grew up winning”, confirms Jordan Lotomba.

He and his teammates said it when they arrived at the Euro: they feel strong. Capable of everything. All they have to do is imitate Xhaka, Sommer, Shaqiri and Mehmedi. Finalists of the Euro hopes in 2011. Tauliers of the Nati “A” since. Do not lose sight of it: whatever happens against Portugal this Wednesday, it is when the 1998 generation will have managed to feed the Swiss team, the real one, that they will have really won.

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