Nassim Ben Khalifa was only a little boy when his father took him to the San Siro to see Inter Milan play. Running out for I Nerrazzuri on that occasion was Brazilian striker Ronaldo, who was at the height of his powers at the time.
As Ben Khalifa tells FIFA.com, the Swiss midfielder of Tunisian origin was so impressed by the peerless predator he remembers the day vividly. "I've never forgotten it," he recalls somewhat wistfully, his mind drifting back to what was a defining moment in his footballing education.
Born and brought up in the tiny village of Prangins, in the Swiss canton of Vaud, Ben Khalifa dreamed of emulating his footballing idol. A student at a state sports academy in Lausanne, his big break came a little over a year ago when he joined first division side Grasshopper Zurich. And having now earned a place in the first team with his club, the gifted teenager is one of the star figures of the Switzerland team that has been impressing at Nigeria 2009.
The old-style No10 scored the goal that sent Brazil crashing out of the tournament, raising his profile even higher. "Beating Brazil, was an amazing feeling," he explains. "And what's more I scored the only goal of the game, which makes me even happier. We have to thank our goalkeeper more than anyone else, though. He was fantastic and so was the defence, which held on right to the end. We knocked out Brazil, or at least I think we have. They are out, aren't they?"
After helping to engineer Brazil's demise, Ben Khalifa believes that Switzerland can go on to achieve even greater things in Nigeria. "We are among the favourites now. Winning Group B with three straight wins against teams like Japan, Mexico and Brazil means something. We might not have the skills of the Brazilians or the passing game of the Mexicans and Japanese but we do have tremendous mental strength. Our will to win helps us move mountains. Against Japan we came from two goals down and ended up putting four past them."
Support from the home front
The 17-year-old's Nigerian adventure is being eagerly followed by his parents, both of whom hail from Tunisia. "My family are there and they're all delighted at how things have been going for me. They've been watching the games on the Arabic channels," he explains. "My mother has stayed in Switzerland with my little brother but she's been watching too. I call her every two days or so and she finds out the results before I even do."
Mature for his years, perhaps the result of his dual heritage, Ben Khalifa has had no trouble at all in adapting to his surroundings in Nigeria. "We had all the typical images in our minds before we came here. We thought the food would be strange and that it would be dangerous here. We were also warned about malaria and so when we got here we covered ourselves with insecticide (laughs). But in actual fact it's great to be here. The people are wonderful and everyone has really been looking after us. It's just like Switzerland but warmer."
Having settled in just fine, Ben Khalifa and Co now face a familiar threat in neighbours and old rivals Germany. But as far as the Swiss linchpin is concerned, that is just the kind of challenge he and his team-mates have come to Africa for.
"They are the European U-17 champions, the best footballing nation on the continent and they've won the World Cup three times. It's a tremendous motivation to be able to play against them and we weren't expecting to come up against one of the big guns so soon. We came here to go as far as possible, though, and to test ourselves against the strongest sides in the world. And the Mannschaft are one of those teams."
The wily Swiss schemer already has a goal and two assists to his name in Nigeria and is just as happy setting up goals as he is scoring them. "Winning is what counts of course, but as some people say a good pass is often worth just as much as a bad goal. If I could, though, I'd make and assist and score." Given his performances in the tournament so far, it might not be a surprise to see him achieve that feat against the Germans.