World Cup Player Profile: Valon Behrami

Philipp Schmidli

Napoli has not one, not two, but three central midfielders that play for Switzerland. It's as though Aurelio De Laurentiis is building up a collection of some sort. It's tough to write about Valon Behrami, Gokhan Inler and Blerim Džemaili without making them all sound a bit...interchangable.

But while all three are rather good at shielding the defense and enjoy flying into a tackle, it's Behrami that pays the most attention to the defensive details. That's not to say he'll never make free with a speculative shot from distance, only that it's highly likely he'll have made sure overpowered a player to win possession before doing so.

Switzerland
Central midfielder
Caps: 48 Goals: 2
Group E

Valon Behrami

Service for Switzerland: Behrami was born in Mitrovica, Kosovo, moving to Switzerland when he was five. And while Kosovo may be on their way to having a national team accepted into international tournaments, Behrami, who's made known his support for such a squad, remains with the Swiss - who should be thrilled with his service to their team.

Behrami began representing la nati at the U18 level and received his first senior cap for a World Cup qualifier against France in 2005. But the 2006 World Cup was unkind to both Switzerland and Behrami. The team finished first in their group, above runners-up France, yet fell to Ukraine in a penalty shootout in the Round of 16. Behrami spent the majority of the tournament on the sidelines thanks to a groin injury.

But he's been a mainstay of the side ever since, up to and including Switzerland's run to the World Cup. They finished unbeaten, with seven wins and three draws, to top UEFA Group E (their goalless draw with Cyprus is a bit worrying, though).

What makes him interesting: When he was young, Behrami was more interested in cross-country running than he was in football, winning four regional titles. He came to football at a rather advanced age, thirteen, but it may be that his love for running shaped him into the player he is today.

It's not so much Behrami's speed but his endurance that makes him an invaluable player. Holding midfield can be an exhausting position, requiring hard tackles and constant tussling for the ball. But, although Behrami can be guilty of a misplaced pass or a mistimed tackle, he can rarely be faulted for lacking the energy to do his job well.

What to expect in Brazil: Hopefully, a truce. Behrami and Gokhan Inler had a bit of a falling out earlier in the season. Apparently, Inler's agent publicly criticized Behrami, and Inler was unwilling to speak out in defense of his friend. This led to a fallout between two of Napoli's three Swiss midfielders (we can only assume Blerim Džemaili fanned the flames, in hopes of getting more playing time).

The tension was evident on the pitch: sloppy, disjointed play whenever the two were partnered. Fortunately, after the acquisition of Jorginho in January, the need for both to play was reduced. But Inler and Behrami are almost certain to start together in Brazil. They're the enforcing duo, there to keep out France (and Honduras. And Ecuador. But mostly France).

Swiss fans will be hoping the two have kissed and made up, because Džemaili's just not nearly as menacing.

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