Diego Benaglio provides a rock-solid last line of defence for the Swiss national team. The keeper, on the books at German Bundesliga outfit VfL Wolfsburg, has been the undisputed number one for his country for over two years, and enjoys the unconditional trust of his coach Ottmar Hitzfeld as well as his team-mates.
The keeper signed pro forms way back in 1999 when he was just 16, appearing in the Swiss top flight for Grasshoppers Zurich. However, in three seasons with the 27-times Swiss champions, he only made a total of 23 appearances, largely due to his tender age.
In 2002 he made his way to Germany and hooked up with VfB Stuttgart. Still only 19, Benaglio was the third-choice goalkeeper behind Timo Hildebrand and Thomas Ernst, and spent his entire playing career in southern Germany with the third division reserve side. The talented youngster’s ambitions extended far beyond that level.
The 1.94m shot-stopper duly opted to move again, arriving in Portugal in July 2005 to play for Funchal club Nacional in what is now the Liga Sagres. After a few settling-in problems, Benaglio established himself as the Madeira outfit’s first-choice pick and began attracting attention from around Europe with a string of cast-iron performances.
In January 2008, VfL Wolfsburg announced the signing of the Zurich-born player. Benaglio replaced previous starting keeper Simon Jentzsch and became a leading figure for the Wolves from the moment he joined the club.
His greatest success to date was also the most surprising, as unfancied Wolfsburg defied the pundits to claim the first Bundesliga title in their history at the end of the 2008-9 campaign. In October last year, the Swiss international extended his stay in Wolfsburg until 2013, to the express delight of the club’s management and fans.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ will be Benaglio’s third major tournament. After making his international debut on 3 June 2006 in a friendly against China PR, he was Switzerland’s third keeper behind Pascal Zuberbühler and Fabio Coltorti at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.
In February 2008, then national boss Jakob ‘Koebi’ Kuhn named Benaglio as his first-choice goalkeeper for UEFA EURO 2008 on home soil. Benaglio completed all three of his country’s fixtures at the tournament, but could do little to prevent the Swiss falling at the first hurdle.
The 2009 Swiss Player of the Year is now hoping he and his team-mates fare substantially better at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, where the priority is simply to qualify for the last sixteen. In 2006, Benaglio watched helplessly as Switzerland exited the tournament at the Round of 16 stage without conceding a single goal in normal and extra-time. Barring injury or unforeseen misfortune, he will actively be involved in trying to better that outcome this summer.