Swiss football has never had too much to shout about on the international stage, but five years ago today it recorded one of the most glorious achievements in its history in winning the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, an against-the-odds triumph in which a young man by the name of Haris Seferovic had a very big part to play.
The Swiss had to do it the hard way too, taking on the host nation’s Golden Eaglets in the final, which was played on Sunday 15 November 2009 in front of 60,000 vociferous fans in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. Though emotions were running high on both sides, Seferovic kept a cool head when it mattered most, rising high to meet Oliver Buff’s 63rd-minute corner and give the unfancied Europeans, who were making their debut in the tournament, a lead they would not relinquish.
Switzerland’s shock win earned the country its very first football world title and marked the emergence of a golden generation. Five years on, the architects of that landmark victory are now starring in some of Europe’s biggest leagues, among them Seferovic, who was only too happy to mark the anniversary of that golden day by chatting to FIFA.com.
“It was a very important goal, no doubt about it,” said the cool-headed matchwinner, a broad smile and somewhat distant look revealing just what the goal means to him.
Mixing it with the best
“When you score a winning goal in the final of a World Cup, the cameras are always going to be on you. That’s the way football is,” he added. “That’s the reason why that competition and that goal have played such a vital role in my career.”
His career initially took him to Fiorentina and Real Sociedad, where he enjoyed fluctuating fortunes before moving to current club Eintracht Frankfurt. In the meantime he has won 20 senior caps for his country, one of them coming in the 2-1 group-phase defeat of Ecuador at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, a game in which he scored his side’s winner, yet more proof that the 22-year-old forward is a man for the big occasion.
The Swiss youngster was far from the only star to emerge from Nigeria 2009, a tournament that was also graced by Brazil’s Neymar, Spain’s Isco, Italy’s Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Gotze, the man who scored Germany’s winner in the Final of Brazil 2014.
That U-17 world finals holds a special place in Seferovic’s heart, and not just because of his exploits in the showpiece match, as he explained: “My club and my national team keep me very busy so I don’t really have much time to sit and think about that wonderful adventure. A lot of people have been talking to me about it lately, though, and obviously it gives me a lot of pleasure to look back on the tournament.
“I scored an important goal in the final, for sure, but there was more to it than that. I think a lot about the team and how we performed as a unit, about the players, the coaches and all the staff that were with us. We spent a whole month together far away from home and it was an amazing experience.”
Making the grade
The links Seferovic forged with his team-mates over those four weeks remain intact, and he keeps in close contact with left-back Ricardo Rodriguez, who now plays for VfL Wolfsburg, and the midfielders Granit Xhaka and Pajtim Kasami, who run out for Borussia Monchengladbach and Olympiacos respectively. Every get-together provides them with a chance to recall the special moments they spent with each other in Nigeria.
“We were very calm the whole time, and nothing could distract us from our objectives,” said Seferovic. “There was a lot of hanging around in airports waiting for planes and there were huge traffic jams too, but we put all those inconveniences behind us and made sure we stayed completely focused on matchdays.”
Though proud to look back on that glorious November day, Seferovic is only too happy to laud his team-mates for their contribution and their talent: “I was very lucky to be part of a fantastic team and squad. I remember us saying at the time that we should be very happy if one or two of us managed to break through into the full national team, though I’ve always felt that more of us would make the step up.”
The next edition of the U-17 world finals takes place in Chile next year, when another clutch of young hopefuls will look to emulate Seferovic and the intrepid Swiss and embark on their journeys to the top.