Pierre-André Schürmann, coach of the Swiss U-19 national team, was the epitome of pride. His team had just lost their semi-final at the UEFA European U-19 Championship in Fribourg's St. Léonard stadium, Turkey winning 3-2 after extra time, but anybody who had witnessed his protégés' performances throughout the tournament would fully understand Schürmann's attitude.
Some of his talented charges will surely go on to make names for themselves in the years to come. Take 18-year-old defender Veroljub Salatic, for example. One of the discoveries of the tournament, Salatic conducted the back line magnificently once again, nullifying perilous situations with poise and vision. And yet his efforts were to be in vain as Turkey needed just two set pieces from Sezer Öztürk to turn the game, their third goal coming courtesy of a counter-attack from the pacy Kerim Zengin. Even after going behind in extra time, it was Salatic who continued to rally his team-mates. "Obviously it's a bitter disappointment to go out after a game like that, when you think of how many chances we had on goal," Salatic admitted after the game. "We kept our concentration throughout the match and then conceded two goals from two free-kicks," the player lamented. Schürmann was full of praise for the Grasshoppers Zürich defender: "He showed his character throughout the tournament. He is certainly one to watch." Salatic managed ten league appearances for Zürich last season and gained his first taste of European action in the UEFA Cup.
Praise for Djourou
Another Swiss player who impressed in front of the 9,800 crowd was Johan Djourou. At just 17 years old, the player Arsenal snapped up from Etoile Carouge last year demonstrated incredible vision for his age, spraying countless intelligent balls from the midfield to his team-mates, and fulfilling his defensive duties right into the first half of extra time when he blocked a goal-bound effort from Aksu. Schürmann hailed the youngster as one of the greatest revelations of the tournament: "He was a huge physical presence today. He is a very interesting player," the coach enthused, although not without adding a little constructive criticism for the future: "He needs to work on his movement and speed."
Djourou, occasionally reminiscent of Patrick Vieira, told FIFA.com: "I'm disappointed that we didn't make the final. I think we deserved it today and obviously you always want to win. But we have to look forward. We're good enough to really compete at the World Youth Championship in 2005. And my long-term objective is the 2008 European Championship. I'll be working hard on my game because my ambition is to play in the full international team."
Schürmann also highlighted the tremendous attitude of his entire team at the tournament. "All of the players were focused on their performances and I think we were worthy of a place in the final, but the tiniest detail can be decisive at this level. We obviously need to work more with the players and we have a lot to learn, but my team thoroughly deserved to the reach the semi-final. We held our own against Italy, Belgium and Ukraine, and they are no minnows. We have a great team on and off the pitch and I am proud of my players. They gave everything and gave the fans tremendous entertainment. After going 3-1 down, we came back again and proved our character. We have a squad of genuine quality which we now need to take to the next level."
Schürmann was respectful of his opponents: "Turkey are very strong on the counter and have two very fast and agile strikers in Zengin and Öztürk. We knew that they were very strong from set pieces, so we had to try to avoid them."
Turkey ruthlessly efficient
In terms of efficiency, Turkey handed their semi-final opponents a lesson. Coach Tekin Onay Gündüz's team created just a handful of opportunities, such as the powerful eleventh minute shot from Ali Öztürk, but they were always a threat thanks to their technical ability and speed. Their 17-year-old starlet Öztürk repeatedly embarrassed the Swiss with his speed and agility, even if the score sheet eluded him on this occasion. The Genclerbirligi striker had already proven his eye for goal with an impressive hat-trick in the opening game against Poland.
Turkey responded to Switzerland's opening goal from Goran Antic (56) with a Sezer Öztürk equaliser just two minutes later. Onay Gündüz then introduced Aksu for Ali Öztürk, much to the latter's dismay. Once again, he had been one of Turkey's best players on the field.
Turkey seized the initiative in extra time; Öztürk with an inch-perfect 30-yard free-kick (95) and Zengin (108) providing a seemingly unassailable 3-1 lead, before the Swiss fought back through an individual goal from Slavisa Dugic (109). The closing minutes saw end to end exchanges, but neither side could find the net again after what had been a draining encounter.
Turkish coach Gündüz Tekin Onay had certainly seen one of his ambitions for the tournament fulfilled: "Hopefully, this European U-19 Championship will help us to discover new stars, because football needs them." He also returned the generous praise of his Swiss counterpart: "I watched their team very closely before the tournament because, for me, they were one of the favourites."