The secrets of Siegrist's success
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Twenty-seven minutes remain in Switzerland's quarter-final against Italy in Ijebu-Ode. Though the surprising Swiss lead 2-1, the Azzurrini have just been awarded a penalty and seem poised to pull level for the second time in the game. Italy midfielder Marco Fossati places the ball on the spot and looks up to see goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist pointing to his right, inviting him to place the ball there. Rejecting the invitation, Fossati sends the ball to the giant gloveman's left only for Siegrist to read his intentions and smother the spot-kick.

It was a blow from which the Italians would never recover, as the ten-man Swiss held on to their slender advantage to set up a semi-final with Colombia. caught up with Siegrist in Lagos, the venue for Thursday's showdown, and asked him what was going through his mind as he prepared to face Fossati's fateful penalty. "I was trying to distract him by pointing to my right, which is something I usually do," explains the ice-cool custodian. "It's a psychological thing, though I have to confess I had no idea where he was going to put the ball. Then, when he took his first step I knew it was going to my left."

All the teams are tired at this stage of the tournament and mental strength is going to be the key. We don't play fantastically entertaining football, but we know that if we work together as a team we can achieve our objectives.
Swiss keeper Benjamin Siegrist

The question is, how was he able to guess which side Fossati was going to place his kick? "Joel Kiassumbua (Switzerland's reserve keeper) told me his theory on how to work out which side penalty-takers will put the ball. I can't give any details away but I can say that I followed his advice and guessed right."

As fate would have it, Siegrist is superstitious about his left-hand side. "Before every game I pull on my left boot first, and my left sock and my left glove. And the first step I take on the pitch is always with my left foot," he says with a smile on his face. "I've got no idea where it comes from. I think I did it once and it worked for me. That's why I don't want to change now."

Unlike most youngsters who fall in love with the game, the Swiss No1 never harboured dreams of making it as a striker, nor of scoring the winning goal in a cup final or appearing on the front cover of a magazine. As Siegrist explains, the job that has always attracted him is perhaps the most thankless one in the game. "I used to study goalkeepers closely. They were always doing something different and wearing colourful jerseys. They also got to pick the ball up, and I knew straightaway that I wanted to play in goal."

The tall teenager certainly seems to have made the right choice. After starting out at a local club, he decided to try his luck at FC Basel, where he stayed for six years before earning a move to English Premier League side Aston Villa at the start of 2009. "Some people say there aren't any good keepers there," he says, "but I can tell you that the training is really hard and demanding. I'm very happy in England and I hope to be able to play in the Premier League with the club. I love the English league, and with all the crosses and aerial play it's perfect for goalkeepers."

Top-tier idols
When it comes to role models, the Villa prodigy expresses the deepest admiration for Gianluigi Buffon, whom he rates as the very best, and former Spain and Valencia keeper Santiago Canizares. "I remember following his career back home. I was always surprised by the crazy things he did, like wearing yellow boots. I won't be copying him, though. I'm only allowed to wear black boots and I've already overstepped the mark here by putting on some white ones."

Siegrist and Switzerland have been unstoppable at Nigeria 2009, but if they are to continue their run and reach the final they will have to get past a battling Colombia side. And as far as the in-form keeper is concerned, Thursday's semi will be a mental battle more than anything else. "All the teams are tired at this stage of the tournament and mental strength is going to be the key. We don't play fantastically entertaining football, but we know that if we work together as a team we can achieve our objectives. That's been our secret up to now and we'll be out to repeat that on Thursday. Colombia are tough opponents and will fight hard, but we're confident all the same."

With fatigue likely to play a factor in the last two games, there is every chance the Swiss man mountain will get the chance to show what he can do in a penalty shootout. Not that he is concerned about that. "I've always had a certain intuition for penalties," he explains. "It's not much of an advantage, but it's an advantage all the same." And whatever happens, one thing Siegrist will not be doing is stepping up to take a kick himself. "I don't take kicks; I prefer to save them. To be honest, though, I don't care whether we get to the final on penalties or in normal time. All I'm worried about is getting there."