Swiss in the same boat as Chile and Honduras

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By Brian Homewood

BERNE (Reuters) - Switzerland is one of the world's most prosperous and stable nations but on the football field its team share many of the same problems as World Cup opponents Chile and Honduras.

Like the two Latin American countries, Switzerland is good at producing talented players but has a weak domestic league which forces many of them to go abroad to further their careers.

This leads to frustration for the national team coach when players get injured or fall out of favor and end up in the reserves at their clubs, often returning home in a bid to rescue their careers.

Internationals who have struggled to fulfill early potential include defender Reto Ziegler, who joined England's Tottenham Hotspur as a teenager but has had to wait until this season with Italy's Sampdoria to get out on the pitch regularly.

When defender Philippe Senderos fell out of favor at Premier League Arsenal, he joined Everton hoping to get some first-team football but instead suffered a niggling hip injury.

For all the problems, Switzerland, with a population of just over seven million where football has to compete with ice hockey and Alpine skiing for attention, has a team who have recently punched above their weight on the international stage.

They have been present at the last three major tournaments -- Euro 2004 and 2008 and the 2006 World Cup -- although they progressed beyond the second round only at the latter.

Drawn with Spain, Chile and Honduras in Group H after qualifying for their eighth World Cup, much will depend on how the Swiss adapt to facing Latin American opposition.

A 3-1 friendly defeat at home to Uruguay in March, when they were hopelessly outclassed, did not auger well.

Switzerland will be led by wily old campaigner Ottmar Hitzfeld who won the Bundesliga twice and Champions League twice during spells with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.

Hitzfeld said he had not lost his hunger for victories, although equaling Switzerland's best performance of a quarter-final place is probably the best he can hope for.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)