When most young children kick a football for the first time, there is only one thing on their minds: putting the ball in the back of the net. Preventing goals, let alone actually playing between the sticks, is normally somewhat further down the list for most budding players.
It was no different for Swiss international goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, who himself started out as a striker when he joined local youth team FC Spreitenbach aged just 14. Still, it was not long before he had found his calling as a goalkeeper and after cementing his position as Switzerland's No1 goalkeeper over the past two years, that early decision as clearly been vindicated.
"You should always strive to perform as well as you can in matches, no matter what your position is in the team. If you don't perform well, things can turn sour very quickly in football. You can never rest on your laurels," Benaglio told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
Our strength is that we are a tight-knit group both on and off the field. Our team spirit is our secret weapon.
For a long time it looked as though the Zurich-born shot-stopper was destined for a career on the fringes. After joining German side Stuttgart from homeland club Grasshoppers, Benaglio was frustrated as third-choice keeper throughout his stay in Swabia and soon fled to Portuguese side CD Nacional. His good performances there attracted the attentions of another Bundesliga club, VfL Wolfsburg, and the 1.93m custodian has never looked back.
Just a few days after the announcement of his transfer to the Wolves, then Switzerland coach Jakob 'Kobi' Kuhn confirmed that Benaglio would be his first choice in goal for UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, ending the troublesome debate of who should take the No1 jersey.
On the back of his first major tournament, the Swiss keeper proved a key figure the following season as Wolfsburg were crowned Bundesliga champions for the first time in their history. The 2009/10 campaign was punctuated by a string of injuries which kept him out for a number of weeks, but the talented 26-year-old found his way back to form just in time for 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
"Since the end of March I've been playing regularly for VfL and I feel 100 per cent fit. Hopefully things stay that way for the World Cup," said Benaglio, who played in nine of Switzerland's ten qualification matches en route to South Africa.
"I think it's going to be a great tournament. I have a good impression of South Africa because I've been there on training camps three times before. The most recent one in January was in Port Elizabeth, where the Swiss team is based for the World Cup. It gave me an opportunity to check out the conditions first-hand."
No shop window
Benaglio insists he is settled in Wolfsburg and will not be using the FIFA World Cup to put himself in the shop window for other major European clubs. "Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don't concern myself with things like that. I'm just focusing on performing well at the World Cup," said the towering goalkeeper, who recently extended his contract with the Bundesliga outfit until 2013.
Switzerland face Honduras, Chile and reigning European champions Spain in Group H in South Africa. "I think we had a decent draw overall. It could have been a lot worse. Spain are the favourites, and it isn't going to be easy against Chile and Honduras. Our strength is that we are a tight-knit group both on and off the field. Our team spirit is our secret weapon."
That unity and determination will be tested to its limits in the Swiss' first match of the tournament as they take on the highly-fancied Spanish on 16 June. "We're capable of coming second behind Spain. If we stay focused on the task at hand, we'll have a great chance."
The clash of the two European nations in Durban could well become a duel between the two goalkeepers. According to Benaglio, Spain's Iker Casillas rates as one of the best shot-stoppers in the world alongside Gianluigi Buffon and Petr Cech. But as the interview concluded, the Wolfsburg star made it clear that he will not be fazed in such exalted company: "I'm not in awe of anyone."