“The biggest night in the history of Swiss football” was the verdict of veteran striker Blaise Nkufo after the Nati shocked European champions Spain in Durban with a combination of grit, collective defending and a generous helping of that vital component for success in world football: luck. “No one gave us a chance to win tonight against Spain, but we knew how to approach the game and we did something great for the country,” the Congo-born forward added exclusively to FIFA.com.
Nkufo, in truth, had very little to do on a breezy night in KwaZulu-Natal. The Swiss attack consisted of rare raids forward as Ottmar Hitzfeld's side focused their collective strength on building a wall against the fearsome Spanish attack. Gelson Fernandes’s opportunistic strike in the 52nd minute was just the second attempt on goal the Swiss had mustered in a game largely dominated by the stylish passing and possession of the tournament's joint-favourites. “We knew what we had to do,” continued 35-year-old Nkufo, a member of the Swiss side that went to the Round of 16 four years ago in Germany.
Midfielder Benjamin Huggel was in complete agreement. “Sure, as far as my memory will take me, this has to be counted as the biggest night in our country’s football,” the Basel man said with a smile while frantically texting his family back home. Foraging captain Gokhan Inler said: “I mean, what can you say, we beat the champions of Europe and no one was expecting that. It’s a huge night for us.”
The Swiss, who only previously reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup™ when hosting the event back in 1954, arrived in South Africa as rank outsiders. They had struggled early on in a weak qualifying group and lost to Luxembourg before righting the ship. Goalkeeper Diego Benaglio pulled off a string of acrobatic saves on the night as the Spanish attack grew more and more desperate in the closing stages, and was eager to keep his feet on the ground while his team-mates wore toothy grins and twittered with excitement in and around the locker-room.
“These three points will be important for us only if we continue to build on them. If we don’t do that, it will mean nothing,” he said, pointing to the loss of centre-back Philippe Senderos, forced off with an ankle injury in the game, as crucial to their future prospects in Group H. As the chastised Spaniards wore haunted looks and tried their best to avoid the bright lights and cruel pens of the media, the Swiss players shared stories and relived this historic moment in their multiple languages. The last word goes to Nkufo, fielding interviews in English, French and German. “This is a night that will live on long in our small nation’s history, and we are going to enjoy it,” he said.