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Swiss seek to make fresh start after World Cup mistakes

Swiss seek to make fresh start after World Cup mistakes
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By Brian Homewood

ITTIGEN, Switzerland (Reuters) – Swiss football officials washed their dirty laundry in public on Friday after a series of controversies surrounding the team during and after the World Cup in Russia.

Swiss football federation (SFV) boss Peter Gillieron told a specially convened news conference that he would stand down at the end of his term next year, confessed that he had made mistakes and that, behind the scenes, his organisation had failed to accompany the progress made on the field.

Meanwhile, coach Vladimir Petkovic said a misunderstanding had led midfielder Valon Behrami to angrily announce his international retirement after becoming the country’s first player to take part at four World Cups.

Switzerland travelled to Russia with a team regarded as one of the finest in the country’s history and which, with a large number of second generation immigrants from the Balkans, was seen as an example of integration.

They reached the last 16, as hoped, but were then knocked out by Sweden after a lame performance.

Along the way, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, both ethnic Albanians and of Kosovar heritage, celebrated their goals in a group stage 2-1 win over Serbia with a gesture which appeared to imitate the eagle displayed on Albania’s flag. They were fined by FIFA but escaped bans.

Following the World Cup, the SFV’s general secretary Alex Miescher resigned after controversially suggesting that players with dual citizenship should only be allowed to play if they dropped their second nationality.

Then Behrami said in a television interview that he had been told by Petkovic that his services were no longer wanted, describing it as a political decision.

Petkovic, who pointed out that his team had only lost two of their last 25 matches, replied on Friday that that was not case.

“I’m sorry about what happened and that it escalated in that way,” he told a news conference. “I know Valon well. I didn’t want to force a decision on him, I just wanted to say how things would be from now on.”

Petkovic, whose contract runs until Euro 2020, said he intended to rebuild the team and that “some of the more experienced players might not eventually get a game.”

Gillieron said he would take the blame for “any cases where there has been a misunderstanding.”

“I have made mistakes and I take the responsibility for that,” he said. “Our national team is more successful than it has ever been, but the structure around it has only been slightly changed.

“Our players belong to a new generation… they haven’t been given enough information about the use of social media.”

“In everyday life we can help, through football, to make people more integrated. Football is a good engine for that,” he added. “You can never support and promote integration enough.”

(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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