BASEL, Swtizerland (AFP) - Switzerland stepped into the World Cup finals in South Africa and made German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld's dream come true on Wednesday with a tense 0-0 draw against Israel in Basel.
After finishing bottom of their group at home in the Euro 2008 finals, renewed Swiss hopes of a second World Cup in succession almost suffered an equally ignominous fate just after Hitzfeld took over the helm a year ago.
Switzerland slumped to a shock 2-1 defeat against lowly Luxembourg in Zurich, but ultimately recovered to win Group 2 by one point with 21 points, having beaten their closest challengers Greece twice.
"It's another success for me and a dream being fulfilled, it's a present that Switzerland has given me," Hitzfeld said.
The 60-year-old German, who has been trying to extract a more aggressive performance from his side, frequently leapt out of his dugout as the under-strength and ragged Swiss squandered opportunities on the edge of the goal area.
"We were really nervous and we had a lot to lose this evening, while the Israelis had nothing to lose," said striker Blaise Nkufo, who plays for Dutch club FC Twente.
"I think we were in a good position after the recent matches and we managed to keep a cool head."
But Israel, with the slimmest outside chance of reaching the playoffs, rarely managed to capitalise on the balls Switzerland gave away in midfield to Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun.
They were reduced to ten men in the second half after Avihay Yadin collected his second yellow card, leaving 65-year-old coach Kashtan Dror with little chance of a reprieve before his expected retirement.
But, apart from a first-half free kick by Swiss midfielder Tranquilo Barnetta that narrowly scythed past the Israeli goalpost and a few scrambles in the area, Israel's keeper Dudu Aoutae rarely had to make a save.
Hitzfeld, one of Europe's most successful club coaches with Bundesliga sides Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, never took on the mantle of his national team despite being highly fancied for the job on several occasions.
Instead the German, who grew up just across the border in southern Germany, came out of near retirement last year to coach Switzerland.
"I'm rather proud of being the coach of the Swiss national team, also to be the coach here in Basel... I grew up just 15 minutes away from this stadium so it's a reminder of my youth."
|Coach: O. Hitzfeld|
|Southampton need three January signings, says Watson|
|Liverpool can make Champions League, says fanzine editor|
|Walsh: Hull clash crucial for Leicester|
|Toure, Aubameyang and Enyeama make shortlist for African gong|
|Docherty backs Chelsea to win two-horse race|
|Liverpool could benefit from Hyypia influence - Scales|
|Saudi Arabia name Asian Cup squad|
|Forty-year-old Cahill no problem for Postecoglou|
|Wenger criticism baffles Redknapp|
|Leicester must strengthen in window - Walsh|
|United not title contenders - Docherty|
|Koeman: Southampton youngsters will get a chance|
|Dyche empathises with Liverpool striker crisis|
|Cagliari turn to Zola|
|Rooney thanks Van Gaal for Christmas break|
|Cruzeiro offer Paulinho Tottenham exit chance|
|Carlisle´s wife grateful to Burnley|
|Katebe called up to Zambia AFCON squad|
|Cape Verde name AFCON squad|
|Finke names much-changed Cameroon squad|
|Grant omits World Cup troublemakers for AFCON|
|Blackpool striker Ranger goes AWOL|
|Allardyce relishing Mourinho meeting|
|Ashley fails to increase Rangers stake|
|Crystal Palace v Southampton: Koeman calls for focus|
|Warnock targeting striker in January|
|Chelsea v West Ham: Adrian vows visitors will attack|
|Heskey signs short-term deal at Bolton|
|Everton v Stoke City: Martinez eyes strong form|
|Juninho defends David Luiz|
|Burnley v Liverpool: Dyche defends Rodgers ahead of Turf Moor test|
|Arsenal v QPR: Wenger eyes festive momentum|
|Liverpool are growing in confidence, says Rodgers|
|Redknapp: Austin future could depend on survival|
|Martinez wants Everton consistency|
|Barca want Neymar until 2020, says agent|
|Jones undeterred by pressure of Liverpool starting role|
|Allardyce ´knows how to beat managers´ - Carroll|
|Jones playing for a new contract|
|China select Evergrande spine for Asian Cup|
|A-League Preview: Koren tips City to build|
|Khedira keen to fight for Real spot|