Frei carries the burden of Swiss hopes

By Brian Homewood

BERNE (Reuters) - Switzerland striker Alexander Frei, who once adopted a llama at Basel zoo, will be carrying a heavy burden at the World Cup.

Frei is his country's record scorer with 40 goals in 73 games and, with only two of the other probable squad members having reached double figures, his country's hopes of goals will be placed largely on his back.

A regular international since 2001, Frei will be making his fourth appearance at a major international tournament having previously enjoyed mixed fortunes.

Four years ago in Germany, he scored two of Switzerland's four goals as they creditably reached the last 16 before losing on penalties to Ukraine.

However, at the 2004 European championship, the only time he hit the target was when he spat at England's Steven Gerrard -- a incident which earned him a three-match ban based on video evidence.

In remorse, he adopted a llama at Basel zoo -- the pack animals spit a foul-smelling substance at aggressors when provoked -- a surprisingly light-hearted act from a usually dour figure.

Four years later, Frei's dreams of leading Switzerland to success as they co-hosted Euro 2008 were shattered when a knee injury forced him to limp out of their opening match with the Czech Republic before halftime.

The sight of Frei wiping tears away with his captain's armband was the most poignant moment of the tournament, although he remained with the squad in a show of solidarity.

At 31, he remains a key player, scoring five goals in the World Cup qualifiers including a penalty in the decisive 2-1 away win in Greece.

Having spent three seasons each with French club Stade Rennes and Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund, he returned home this year to join FC Basel after falling out of favor with the German club.

Frei broke his arm in February and was expected to be out of action for 10 weeks, leaving him with a struggle to be fit in time for June. Frei, however, was looking on the bright side.

"Before the World Cup in 2006 I also had only one competitive match as preparation," he said. "Despite that, I then had a good World Cup."

(Editing by Clare Fallon)