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Swiss coach stays with team after brother dies on eve of World Cup match with Argentina

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SAO PAULO — Switzerland's 1-0 loss to Argentina Tuesday was likely the last game of coach Ottmar Hitzfeld's long career and capped an emotional 24 hours for the German-born coach following the death of his older brother.

Prior to the game, team spokesman Marco von Ah said Hitzfeld was "very sad" but was determined to stay with the team for its crucial game against the two-time world champions, which it lost after a goal in the 118th minute.

The team said 81-year-old Winfried Hitzfeld died in Switzerland after a long battle with blood cancer. It provided no other details.

"He wants to look forward. He wants everybody to do so and respect his private sphere," said von Ah.

Under Hitzfeld, Switzerland lost only once in 18 matches over the two years leading up to the World Cup and reached No. 6 in the FIFA rankings.

A win over Argentina would have equaled Switzerland's greatest World Cup achievement, putting them in the quarterfinals for the first since it hosted the tournament in 1954.

PHOTO: Switzerland's coach Ottmar Hitzfeld instructs his players from the sideline during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Argentina and Switzerland at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Switzerland's coach Ottmar Hitzfeld instructs his players from the sideline during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Argentina and Switzerland at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The 65-year-old Hitzfeld had said previously he would retire after the tournament. Prior to his postgame press conference, a Swiss official asked reporters not to ask the coach about his late brother saying he would like his privacy to be respected.

Several of his players, though, offered condolences after their emotional loss to Argentina.

"For him, it must be very difficult right now. What I can say is that he showed true leadership because it would have been hard for him this morning but he concentrated on the game," said Swiss defender Johan Djourou. "He can be very proud of what he achieved with the national team."

Midfielder Gelson Fernandes said the coach did not mention his brother in the changing room but all the players were aware of the situation and fought extra hard to get Hitzfeld the win.

"He stayed strong. He gave us confidence and he was really, really strong," he said. "I am of course sad for his family and I wish him all the best in the future because he is not just a great manager, he is a great man."


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