BAD BERTRICH, Germany, June 27 (Reuters) - A perfect defensive record during a four-match unbeaten World Cup run offered small consolation to Switzerland's players as they began packing their bags for home on Tuesday.
The Swiss flew back to their base in the small western spa village of Bad Bertrich late on Monday, after going out of the tournament on penalties to second round opponents Ukraine.
Koebi Kuhn's team, who will make the short trip home later on Tuesday, failed to find a way past a tight Ukrainian defence during a tepid 120 minutes of play in Cologne.
In a World Cup first, they then failed to find the net in the shootout -- going out 3-0 in a disappointing end to what had seemed a promising campaign.
Four solid defensive performances, comprising 6-1/2 hours without conceding a goal, were the strong point of the Swiss campaign but the sharp counter-attacking moves that earned 2-0 wins over group rivals South Korea and Togo were missing on Monday.
'When you go to a tournament, don't let in any goals and still end up going home then it's a very bitter feeling,' midfielder Ricardo Cabanas said.
'Up until the end, I think we had a good campaign so I don't think we should reduce the whole World Cup to just the penalty shootout. What we have to do now is regain our confidence and prepare for the European Championship in 2008.'
Switzerland are due to co-host that event with neighbouring Austria and Kuhn has already set his team the ambitious target of winning the tournament.
After starting this World Cup with a goalless draw against former world champions France, the performances of Switzerland's young squad suggest this could be more than wishful thinking if their control of the midfield improves radically.
The Swiss have already shown they have talent in that area with former under-17 European champion Tranquillo Barnetta looking more of a menace with every game he plays.
But despite the further threat from set pieces of a reinvigorated Hakan Yakin and the calm anchorage offered by experienced captain Johann Vogel, Switzerland seemed all too often unable to dictate the tempo in Germany.
It was significant that their most sterile performances came against a disappointing France side and a highly defensive Ukraine, while they looked liveliest playing Togo and South Korea who needed to attack to have a chance of progressing.
'We have to maintain our defensive stability and our team spirit,' said defender Ludovic Magnin, one of the few players from either team to shine on Monday.
'But it's clear we have to improve further up the field and do better at set pieces. We have a lot of young players, though, and the coach will see that we improve.'