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Swiss draw strength from childhood friendships

Written by: Staff
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STUTTGART, June 12 (Reuters) Although they came into the World Cup with the second youngest squad, Switzerland will be relying on some tried and tested partnerships when they face France in their opening Group G match tomorrow.

No less than eight of the team's regular players have been reunited in the national side after starting out in the same teams as young boys.

''I think there is definitely a small advantage that we have played so long together,'' says Swiss top scorer Alex Frei of his eight years in the same schoolboy team as regular strike partner Marco Streller.

''Earlier with the juniors of course it was just a case of hoofing the ball in the air and everybody running after it, but on the human relationship side of things, I think we still benefit from those early days.'' While Frei and Streller both started out as midfielders, Swiss captain and defensive midfielder Johann Vogel was a prolific goalscorer for the FC Meyrin juniors, frequently latching on to passes from then-midfielder and current Swiss team mate Patrick Mueller.

''I don't know if it will help us against France but of course it's a beautiful story,'' says Mueller, 29, who still plays just behind Vogel in central defence.

''When you start playing football with your friend at the age of six you can never know that 25 years later you'll be going to the World Cup together. It's just fantastic.'' Although they played for rival junior teams in Geneva, Philippe Senderos and Mueller's understudy Johan Djourou made several joint appearances in a city schoolboy selection side before their recent reunion as club team-mates at Arsenal.

The strongest tie of all though is surely that of identical twin brothers Philipp Degen and David Degen, also playing in close proximity at right back and right midfield respectively.

''Being at the World Cup is amazing for both of us, but hopefully good for the team too,'' says Philipp, who played professionally with his brother at FC Basel before joining Borussia Dortmund last year.

''We know each other inside out and also complement each other very well so yes it's a great advantage.'' REUTERS PDS BD2140

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