This crop of Swiss starlets can justifiably be called pioneers, given that Dany Ryser's charges are the country's first representatives at a FIFA U-17 World Cup finals. Indeed, the Nati youngsters' feat in clinching one of six available qualifying berths at the UEFA Under-17 European Championship Germany 2009 is perhaps their biggest achievement since a generation including Tranquillo Barnetta, Philippe Senderos and Reto Ziegler won the continental U-17 title in 2002.
To put the young Helvetians' performance in Germany into perspective, Ryser's boys finished the first round top of a Group A containing Italy, France and reigning champions Spain, while the Spanish and the French both missed out on a semi-final berth. Switzerland's campaign opened with a 1-1 draw with Les Bleuets, followed by a 0-0 draw against the Iberians and a 3-1 success over the Azzurrini which secured a place in the last four and at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009. And though they exited the competition 2-1 at the hands of semi-final opponents the Netherlands, Janick Kamber reducing the deficit after the Dutch led 2-0 at half-time, they will have drawn consolation from the opportunity to represent their country on the world stage.
As they showed in their gritty 0-0 draw with Spain, winners of the previous two editions of the U-17 EURO, Switzerland boast mental toughness and a solid defensive line: the latter built around skipper Frederic Veseli and goal-scoring left-back Kamber. At the other end of the field, Les Rougets can count on livewire forward Nassim Ben Khalifa, who top scored for his country in qualifying for this year's U-17 EURO and has already hit ten goals at this level. All of which means coach Ryser will be aiming high come October/November's African adventure: "When a team has the ability to finish top of a group containing Spain, France and Italy, they have every right to be very confident heading into the World Cup!"
Facts and figures
Philippe Senderos, Tranquillo Barnetta (2002)
Janick Kamber (defender), Frederic Veseli (defender), Nassim Ben Khalifa (attacker)
The numbers game
1 - The number of times Switzerland have previously taken part at the finals of a FIFA U-20 or U-17 World Cup. This came at the Netherlands 2005 edition of the U-20 showpiece, where the Swiss finished bottom of Group F.
|10||Nassim BEN KHALIFA|