In the first of a series of interviews ahead of Euro 2008, young Swiss midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta talks about Switzerland's passion for soccer and the hosts' prospects for the tournament.
Born in 1985, Barnetta is already a mainstay for Switzerland
Barnetta came to the Bundesliga in 2004 and has established himself in Bayer Leverkusen's starting eleven. Now, he'll try to help his Alpine home country, hardly a football powerhouse, to a respectable showing at the European Championship.
DW-WORLD.DE: As co-host, is Switzerland ready for the tournament?
Tranquillo Barnetta: I think so. It will take a little while for everyone to get excited. But I'm sure it will be a great party.
And what's the Swiss national team doing?
We still have a couple of friendlies. But we're on the right track, and I'm convinced that we'll do well at Euro 2008.
You're not only a regular in the team. You're also one of Switzerland's biggest hopes for the future. How do you deal with that responsibility?
The responsibility doesn't fall on my shoulders alone. We have to try as a team to play a good tournament. Along the way, I'll be trying to do my best and help the team, and I'm certain we'll be successful.
You're still a young player. How much will the experience of playing in a European Championship help you become a leader on the pitch?
I'm going to try to take all the positives with me that I can and to develop as a player. We'll see how my career goes then.
You've played most of your career in the German Bundesliga? Can that experience help the Swiss national team?
Barnetta has played for both Hanover and Leverkusen in the Bundesliga
Yes, a lot. But playing internationally is different from playing in the Bundesliga. The level is higher. So I'm very glad to be playing for Switzerland.
Swiss players are also very prominent in the Bundesliga. There are five or six that play for the top clubs in the league and are fixtures for the Swiss national team.
That's a very nice thing. We're really happy to have people playing in such a good league. It's very positive for us.
Switzerland play Turkey in the first round of Euro 2008. When the two teams last met in the World Cup qualifiers, there were riots. Is all that forgotten?
Yes, it was a while ago, and I don't think there will be a repeat in Switzerland. It was a one-off occurrence. After the match [against Turkey], everything will be forgotten.
Switzerland had to flee fan violence when they played Turkey in the World Cup qualifiers
How do you size up Turkey as an opponent?
I think it's a very balanced team. But of course, if we want to advance we'll have to beat Turkey.
Portugal , another one of Switzerland's first-round opponents, have a very strong team.
Definitely. They're probably the best in the group, together with the Czech Republic. When you look at how they play, you see they have some global stars in their squad. We're going to have to put the pedal to the metal to keep up with them.
Your coach, Kobi Kuhn, has said the team wants to make the semifinals at least. Is that a realistic goal? Or is he just trying to get people fired up?
No, it's realistic. We know it will be hard. Our group is very balanced, but anyone can beat anyone. So I'm hoping will be one of the top two teams in the group, and then we'll see how far we can go.
Who do you think will be European Champion?
We'll see. In my book, Italy, Germany and France are the favorites.
And Switzerland will come in fourth?
Barnetta also played in the 2006 World Cup
Wait and see. We hope that we'll be good for a surprise. Fourth would be a very good result.
That would be a remarkable development for Switzerland ahead of former Bayern Munich coach Otmar Hitzfeld taking over the team .
Exactly, But for now, we're working with Kobi Kuhn. First we'll concentrate on the Euro. Afterward, I think, we have a great coach in Otmar Hitzfeld.
Being the host puts additional pressure on the team because you're playing in your own stadiums in front of your home fans. Do you agree?
Of course. But we have to try to see it not in terms of pressure, but as a chance to get the crowd behind us and outperform ourselves. I'm convinced that it won't lead to paralysis, but that it will be something positive for us.
Can visitors expect the same sort of atmosphere in Switzerland as in Germany during the 2006 World Cup?
I think so. There probably won't be the same masses of people because everything in Switzerland is a bit smaller. But the euphoria will be same.
The same enthusiasm?