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|
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