A nothing short of monumental figure in the development of beach soccer in Switzerland, it was only to be expected that Angelo Schirinzi’s decision to call time on the playing side of his player-coach’s role would provide sizeable shoes to fill. Yet unforeseen circumstances prior to and during the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015 have meant that dilemma has been put to one side, at least as long as the Swiss stay in the competition.

For years Schirinzi had carried out his dual function, including at the 2009 and 2011 Beach Soccer World Cups, however, mere weeks before the trip to Espinho for this year’s edition, he made the decision to stay in the dugout. All that changed in the final training session ahead of Switzerland’s tournament opener versus Oman, when Kaspar Jaeggy picked up an injury. With just thirty minutes remaining before the player-replacement deadline expired, the 42-year-old had little choice but to put his own name down on the list.

“I signed up without intending to play, in fact I didn’t play in the first two games. It just so happened that [Michael] Misev was carrying a muscle injury and [Sandro] Spacca[rotella] was on a yellow card, so I decided to get involved,” Schirinzi told FIFA.com, who found the net with a bicycle kick no less – his sixth goal at a Beach Soccer World Cup – in the 6-4 Group B defeat by Italy that handed the Swiss a quarter-final meeting with hosts Portugal. “I don’t know if I’ll play again, but you never know,” he added.

Old habits die hard
Intriguingly, “you never know” was part of the speech Schirinzi gave to his charges back at the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan in June, when explaining his decision to focus on coaching. “The plan wasn’t for him to stop playing entirely,” revealed Switzerland captain Mo Jaeggy, brother of the aforementioned Kaspar.

“When he made his decision, Angelo told us that ‘if you need me, I’ll be there. If not I’ll just coach,’ and to be honest today we needed him,” Mo continued. “The circumstances that led to Angelo playing again were sad [i.e. Kaspar’s injury], but we’re lucky to be able to call on him. He was part of the team up until a few weeks ago anyway and he still trains with us every day, so it was no surprise to see him play well.”

Nor would it be a surprise to see Schirinzi’s vast experience being put to good use against the host nation on Thursday, in a match between familiar foes. Indeed, Switzerland and Portugal have met 32 times in beach soccer, the central Europeans winning on 12 occasions. “We want to win, we can win and, honestly, I think the Portuguese are a bit fearful of facing us at this stage, because we’ve played each other so many times,” said a clearly confident Mo.

“The fact they’re the hosts could end up going in our favour: we’re under no pressure at all,” continued the No8. “Everybody’s expecting Portugal to win and the local fans must be expecting a comfortable victory over ‘little’ Switzerland. But, if we can play at the kind of tempo Senegal did in their [6-5] group win against the Portuguese, I know we’ll be difficult to stop.”

All food for thought for Schirinzi then, who not only has his part to play in gauging his players’ fitness and morale levels, as well as preparing them for a decisive encounter, but also must decide whether the time is right for another intervention on the sands. On the evidence of the Italy match, he still has plenty to offer…