Blaise Nkufo and his Swiss team-mates rocked the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ to its foundations with their stunning 1-0 win over European champions Spain. The Congolese-born Nkufo talked to FIFA about his return from international exile at 35, Ottmar Hitzfeld's influence as head coach, and the significance of the first FIFA World Cup in Africa.
FIFA: Beating Spain was a great start, wasn't it?
Blaise Nkufo: Yes, it was a terrific victory. We played really well. We defended as a team, we were mentally well-prepared, we had a plan, and we put it into action.
How significant is the result for Swiss football, and for your country's chances in the group?
It's a wonderful gift to the whole nation. I'd go as far as describing it as a historic result. As I've said, we had a game plan, and the whole team put it into action from the start. We defended extremely well, and then we moved the ball wide and put over our crosses. It's the same in every big game, you have to create a few chances and that's what we did. We scored, and that's put us in a really good position in our group, although let's not forget that Spain remain the absolute favourites.
Much has been written and said about Ottmar Hitzfeld, his contribution to the victory, and the way he set up his team.
He's won everything there is to win as a coach. He's been hugely successful, and he knows exactly how to approach a big game. He's been getting that across to the team and helping us develop a winning mentality. He told us we're capable of winning every match, and that's the approach the players take with them on to the pitch now, regardless of who we're playing. Yesterday, it was Spain. We had to move mountains, and without the belief that we really could do it, we'd never have won the game.
This is the first FIFA World Cup in Africa. You were born in Kinshasa, so is it a special event for you?
It's basically very special for me to be playing at a World Cup in the first place, especially at my age. I'm delighted the World Cup was awarded to South Africa. I think it's a good thing for the continent as a whole, and especially for the country itself. We mustn't forget how different things were here just 20 years ago, and of course, there's still lots to do. It would be tremendous if football can play a role in improving the overall situation and giving everyone a lift.
We mustn't forget how different things were here just 20 years ago, and of course, there's still lots to do. It would be tremendous if football can play a role in improving the overall situation and giving everyone a lift.
You actually announced your retirement from the national team back in 2002, so what does it mean to be part of the squad here? How do you feel about marking your comeback with such an incredible victory?
I never stopped working hard. Despite what happened in the past, I always worked hard for my clubs, scored goals and stuck to the task. And circumstances change, new coaches come along. Mr Hitzfeld came to see me and spoke to me. He understood my position and handed me another chance. Then it was up to me to take this chance, show him what I can do, and the contribution I could make to the team. And that's why I've ended up playing for the national team at the World Cup.
How important is football in your life? For some players, it seems that nothing else matters, but it appears to be different for you.
Yes, I happen to think it's important to have other interests in life. I often point out that football is what I do for a job. Let me give you an example: the only difference between me and a doctor is that I work in the public domain. That makes us open to a lot of criticism, because everyone pronounces a verdict on our work. I do think football is important, but you have to set boundaries and maintain other areas of interest in your life.
Turning to your next opponents, now you've beaten Spain, you can't possibly be afraid of Chile, can you?
I think that would be a very foolish conclusion. We have our ambitions and a very clear target. Spain and Chile are both exceptionally good teams, and nor am I forgetting Honduras. We need to stick to our plan and our original target. And I think we'll need to pay Chile the same respect as we showed Spain.