Diego Benaglio rates as one of the best goalkeepers in the German Bundesliga. He is a leading onfield presence for both Wolfsburg and Switzerland, and won many new admirers with his strong displays at UEFA EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Benaglio’s current challenge is the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament 2012, where the 28-year-old must urgently help his young team-mates find winning form after a sobering start to the tournament.
Following a 1-1 draw in their opening match against Gabon, the Swiss suffered a painful 2-1 reverse against surprise package Korea Republic, so Benaglio and Co must beat Mexico in Cardiff on Wednesday to retain any chance of making the quarter-finals. The seasoned custodian knows he has a special role in coach Pierluigi Tami’s youthful squad, and must lead the way in remaining optimistic and upbeat. "All the options are still open,” Benaglio told FIFA.com. "We believe in our chances and we’ll do everything we can to reach our goal.
"The South Koreans were really strong opponents," said the 2009 Swiss Player of the Year. "You could see they’ve been together for a while. But when you look at the second half, I still think it was an improvement compared to the first match. The only thing I’m angry about is conceding the second goal right after we’d equalised. If we can continue improving with every game, which has been the case so far, I’m convinced we can book our place in the quarter-finals against Mexico."
Naturally, Benaglio had been hoping for a more positive start to his London 2012 adventure, but he is steadfastly determined to enjoy every minute of the tournament, as the Swiss are competing for football gold at the Games for the first time in 84 years. The keeper has the honour of leading out his men at the event, and is well aware of the historical significance of it all: "Before we set out for London, every one of us knew it’s the kind of thing you’ll normally only do once in your life. So it’s an absolute highlight and a massive experience."
Nor does the keeper want it to end in massive disappointment. "There’s no point in us dreaming of medals right now. We have to focus entirely on the Mexico game. We all know anything’s possible in football. We have to overcome the challenge of Mexico, and we’ll see where it takes us."
The experienced Benaglio has an important job to do in lifting the spirits of the younger members of a disheartened team. The player who has 42 senior caps assured FIFA.com he is the right man for the job: "It’s something I really enjoy, and to be honest, I’m not exactly unaccustomed to it either. I’ve spent a few years in Wolfsburg now, and the same applies to the Swiss national team. I have a certain leadership function in both teams, and in any case, I’ve always been happy to shoulder responsibility."
For the Zurich-born player, packing for home after the group stage would be doubly bitter. He is aware that a new Swiss generation, some of whom are picking up valuable experience in London, has the potential for greatness. "They’re all very, very good players. Every single one of these lads is superb on the ball and they all believe in themselves too. Many of them try and resolve difficult situations by playing neat football. This is basically a chance for us to demonstrate the new excellence in Swiss youth development."
Facing Mexico in a must-win clash is not necessarily a bad thing from a Switzerland point of view. Benaglio and Co may draw heart from the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2009 in Nigeria, where four of the Olympic team - Pajtim Kasami, Ricardo Rodriguez, Oliver Buff and Benjamin Siegrist – helped their side open with a 2-0 victory. The opponents back then were Mexico. And Switzerland went on to claim the trophy.