Josip Drmic’s international career could have been very different, and it took perseverance and persuasion to allow him to play for Switzerland.
Whilst Drmic was born on August 8, 1992, in Lachen, a town within Switzerland, his parents are both Croatian, and so he couldn’t apply for Swiss nationality until he was 16. When he did apply, his efforts were met with disapproval.
Commissioners made him take three exams, and after the second one they decided that, because Drmic knew more about Zurich – where he had spent six years playing in a football school – than his home village of Freienbech, that he didn’t deserve Swiss nationality.
Drmic hired a lawyer to convince the commissioners otherwise, arguing that due to Zurich’s location and importance to the community of Freienbech, it was acceptable, and so the problem was solved. Had the commissioners not been convinced, perhaps Drmic would have been part of the Croatia side that reached the World Cup final in 2018!
The municipality of Freienbech is located on Lake Zurich, a picturesque, mountainous part of the country. Drmic excelled in these peaceful surroundings, spending four years with Zurich’s reserve team and first team, scoring a hatful of goals as he made a name for himself in the Super League.
The majority of people who come from Freienbech speak German - hardly surprising considering it’s closer to Munich than most of Germany is, so a move north to the Bundesliga in July 2013 to sign for 1. FC Nurnberg wasn’t as daunting as it otherwise might have been.
Whilst Drmic’s playing career in Switzerland had come to an end at club level, he was just getting started internationally.
The centre-forward had represented his country since Under-18s level in 2010, and worked his way up through the age ranks, scoring for the Under-19s and Under-21s before breaking through to the first team at the 2012 Olympics in London.
The British shores aren’t new to him, then, but the tournament didn’t go quite the way Switzerland would have hoped. One draw and two defeats saw them finish bottom of their group behind Gabon, South Korea, and Mexico, while Drmic only featured as a substitute in the final two matches.
Fortunately, fortunes began to change in the build-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Drmic’s first two goals came for the senior team in a 2-2 friendly draw with, who else, Croatia in March that year. After being named in the country’s squad for the World Cup, he netted again in a warm-up match against Jamaica in May.
In the finals, Drmic was pivotal in helping the Swiss get through the group stages, getting two assists for Xherdan Shaqiri’s hat-trick in a 3-0 win against Honduras. Switzerland finished Group E in second, just behind France, but were subsequently knocked out by Argentina in the Round of 16.
Attention then turned to qualifying for the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament, in which Drmic scored three goals, including the equaliser in a 2-1 win over Lithuania and a brace against Slovenia, as Switzerland came from 2-0 down to beat them 3-2. They finished second in their qualifying group, as well as second in their finals group, before losing in the Round of 16 to Poland. Drmic didn’t feature in the finals, however, as he was recovering from knee surgery.
Drmic scored another important goal for his country in a 1-0 win against Latvia in March 2017, as Switzerland cruised to second place in their 2018 World Cup qualifying group, matching Portgual with 27 points.
In the finals in Russia, Drmic came on as a substitute for Mario Gavranovic and scored in a 2-2 draw that sent Switzerland through to the Round of 16 again, so whilst his international goals may have been few and far between, they’ve often held plenty of importance.
Something of a worrying trend, Switzerland were yet again eliminated before the quarter-finals, this time Sweden beating them 1-0 in Saint Petersburg.
Since then, Drmic had a moment to forget in the UEFA Nations League when he missed a penalty in the third-place play-off shootout against England but is now part of the Switzerland squad on track to qualify for the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament.
Switzerland have won two and drawn two of their first four games in Group D, but they do have a game in hand on Denmark and Republic of Ireland in second and first, and those are the two teams they’re playing over the October international break. Should they get a result in either or both of those, Drmic looks set to play his part in another qualifying push for a major tournament.
Denmark v Switzerland - Saturday, October 12 - 5pm
Switzerland v Republic of Ireland - Tuesday, October 15 - 7.45pm