Frei in spitting distance of Swiss redemption
FEUSISBERG, Switzerland, June 6 (Reuters) After leaving his last major tournament in disgrace, Switzerland's top goalscorer Alex Frei is looking to complete an unlikely journey from national villain to world champion.
Sent home from Euro 2004 after television pictures showed him spitting on England's Steven Gerrard, the striker has won his way back into Swiss hearts with an overall total of 25 goals in 45 appearances.
But Frei, 26, knows his old ways could come under renewed scrutiny from the media once Switzerland arrive in Germany on Thursday.
''My plan is not to answer any questions (about Euro 2004),'' the Stade Rennes player told Reuters at the team's training camp in central Switzerland.
''Will that work? Well, the people who carry on asking me those questions will see that it works.
''I am going to the World Cup to play well and to show people that Alex Frei isn't just some guy who was once top scorer in the French league (in 2004-05). The rest doesn't interest me.'' PRIMARY DESIRE While many of his team mates have spoken of their primary desire to get through Group G against France, South Korea and Togo, Frei has been making headlines by saying the squad can go all the way.
''Look, I know my comment about winning the World Cup made a lot of people think 'what the hell's up with Frei?', but when I go to a tournament I go there to win just as I go out to win when I'm playing cards, tennis or ping-pong,'' he said.
''It is my ambition to be world champion and if it wasn't then I might as well stay at home.'' Switzerland's new-found optimism has much to do with the way coach Koebi Kuhn has rejuvenated his squad, bringing in talented youngsters like Tranquillo Barnetta, Philippe Senderos and Valon Behrami.
A lot will depend on Frei, though, and in particular how well the striker has recovered from a February groin operation that ruled him out for more than three months.
''I don't think an injury can ever be an advantage but at least I'm fresher after my time out,'' said Frei, who scored two goals in the 4-1 friendly win over China on Saturday.
''I know I'm just about at the level of my old physical fitness now and the friendly matches were very important for helping me get my mental confidence back.'' The first test for Frei and his team comes on June 13 in their opening match against France, who ended the Swiss Euro 2004 dream with a 3-1 group-stage defeat inflicted immediately after Frei's expulsion from the tournament.
REUTERS DH BST2021