The unstoppable Swiss and their beach soccer Messi

26 Aug 2021
  • Switzerland march on to the semi-finals of Russia 2021

  • Biggest win of the tournament so far

  • Noel Ott at the heart of the Swiss success

Post-match interviews with the Swiss at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2021™ in Moscow can be quite challenging, not least for the sweaty players who have to face a barrage of questions from journalists just moments after the final whistle. A friendly pat on the back, a surprise hug or a look from a team-mate often makes the players laugh during these interviews.

This easy-going mood among the Eidgenossen was also evident in their latest performance at the Luzhniki Beach Soccer Arena as they swept into the semi-finals with a resounding 10-1 victory over Uruguay, the biggest win at this tournament so far.

"I’ve no idea what was going on today," a delighted Noel Ott told FIFA.com. "We’ve always had to come from behind in our last few games. Although it was good to take the lead this time, the way things turned out still came as a surprise."

Ott – the Messi of beach soccer

Ott, who shares the captaincy with leading goalscorer Dejan Stankovic, is one of the team’s biggest stars. Enter the name 'Noel Ott' into a search engine, and before long you will also be presented with the name of one of the best footballers of all time: Lionel Messi. Why? It turns out that the popular Swiss midfielder is regularly referred to as the 'Messi of beach soccer'.

"Lots of people compare me to him," explained Ott, "because I send opponents into a spin like a whirlwind. I played beach soccer for Barcelona in 2014 and 2015, which is when the fans began making the comparison. We’re both quite small, score lots of goals and have strong technique. I also wear the No10 shirt for the national team. Having said all that, I don’t believe for a moment that I’m on his level. Messi is one of the best, if not the best footballer of all time. It’s a big honour to be compared to someone like that."

As Ott said this, his team-mate Philipp Borer walked by, rolled his eyes and laughed. "Are you comparing him to Messi again? He’s our Lionel, but let us talk about beach soccer."

Running out of superlatives

Back, then, to the matter in hand, namely that Switzerland could face their Russian hosts in the last four. Ott, now arm-in-arm with Borer, said excitedly: "That would definitely be a major highlight. We already had one by beating Brazil, but playing the hosts is always something special. There’s no doubt that the atmosphere will be completely different. We have nothing to lose but the Russians will definitely be under pressure. That could work to our advantage."

Ott’s world looked very different in the summer of 2020, when he spent months out of action with a knee injury. The 27-year-old only got back out on the sand this spring. "A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined enjoying this kind of success in Russia, but I started to feel better and better while preparing for this tournament and managed to slowly get back to where I was before my injury. I’m over the moon."

Switzerland coach Angelo Schirinzi, who has been working with Ott for almost ten years, knows exactly what kind of player he has on his hands. "He’s fantastic, both as a player and as a person. There are no superlatives good enough to describe him." His comments were echoed by co-captain Stankovic: "He has this lightness on the ball that he uses to dance around opponents. He knows where his team-mates are and makes the right decisions, whether that means going it alone or playing it back to someone."

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - AUGUST 26: Players of Switzerland celebrate their side's victory after the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2021 Quarter-final match between Switzerland and Uruguay at Luzhniki Beach Soccer Stadium on August 26, 2021 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Octavio Passos - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Echoes of 2009

For the Swiss, reaching the semi-finals represents their best result since finishing as runners-up in 2009. Since then, Switzerland have reached the quarter-finals three times, in 2015, 2017 and 2019, and were eliminated after the group stage in 2011. Ott first stepped onto the World Cup stage as a 21-year-old at Portugal 2015, where he ended the tournament as the adidas Bronze Scorer for netting the third-highest number of goals.

In this respect, he still has some work to do to catch up with the “real” Messi and his three FIFA Club World Cups and a FIFA U-20 World Cup crown. "No problem! Just winning the title on Sunday would be enough for me."

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - AUGUST 26: Philipp Borer of Switzerland celebrates with team mates after scoring their side's second goal during the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2021 Quarter-final match between Switzerland and Uruguay at Luzhniki Beach Soccer Stadium on August 26, 2021 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Octavio Passos - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)