Measuring in at over six foot one, with a shaven head and powerful gait, casual observers could be forgiven for mistaking Switzerland's Pajtim Kasami with one of the Swiss delegations' security staff rather than a player at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009. Yet it is on the pitch, not behind the scenes, where Kasami does his best work.
This was proven by his thumping left-footed free-kick in his side's opening game against Mexico. The ball fairly flew into the top corner of Jose Rodriguez's net to set the Helvetians on the way to a 2-0 Group B success. "Of course I'm proud to have gone down in tournament history," the Lazio midfield man told FIFA.com on scoring the first goal of Nigeria 2009. "I'm always practising those shots, but to be honest I didn't give it much of thought at the time, I just hit it and in it went. Then I ran over to a TV camera to dedicate the goal to my family."
"We're very close, with a very strong family bond. That's why it's hard for me not being able to see them very often," continued Kasami, who left homeland club Grasshoppers at 15 to join English giants Liverpool, before making the switch to Italian football the following year. "I know that my parents, my brother and my sister will all be watching me on television [here at Nigeria 2009], which gives me the strength to keep working hard every day."
And on the evidence of Kasimi's influential display against the 2005 champions, that hard work is certainly paying off. "Kasami was particularly important to the team, given that we were without Kofi Nimeley through injury," explained Swiss coach Dany Ryser. "That forced him to take on a more leading role and he carried it out to perfection. As well as repeatedly winning the ball back for us, he opened the scoring and made the most of his physical presence. We can't ask for any more."
Not that the Switzerland No16 will be getting carried away with this fulsome praise: "We played well as a team against Mexico and I get more enjoyment from that than any individual reward. But we mustn't rest on our laurels: we have to beat Japan, grow as a team and keep progressing. And, for my part, I hope to repeat my performance (against Mexico)."
Another three points would virtually guarantee the Swiss a place in the knockout stages on their first appearance at a FIFA U-17 World Cup, with their final Group B match coming against three-time tournament winners Brazil. However, even that impressive feat is dwarfed by the confident youngster's ultimate goal: emulating a man whose career featured victory in the FIFA World Cup™, UEFA EURO and UEFA Champions League.
"My hero is Zinedine Zidane, no doubt about it," said Kasami as the conversation drew to a close. "I train hard every day to fulfil my ambition, which is to be like him someday. It's not easy and it needs a lot of work, but that's my goal and that's what I think about every morning at training."