The Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup™ is back for the first time in three years.
After an enforced hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the prestigious tournament is all set to grace the Buchlern sports complex in Zurich’s Altstetten once again over the upcoming Ascension holiday (25-26 May). With a top-quality line-up of participating teams, there is a real buzz of anticipation in the air. That excitement was palpable as we caught up with former Switzerland goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbuhler, who is involved in the organisation of the event.
Pascal, just how much have you missed the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup?
I’ve missed it sorely and I don’t think I’m the only one. The loyal followers of this prestigious tournament are buzzing about its return over the forthcoming Ascension holiday. The Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup has always been a crowd-puller, with a really special atmosphere on and off the pitch. Everyone who heads down to the Buchlern sports complex is always rewarded with a breathtaking footballing spectacle and this year will be no exception. Fans of international youth football are in for a treat once again. There are strong line-ups in both the women’s and men’s tournaments, which promise to deliver great matches aplenty – and hopefully there’ll be goals galore to boot.
Speaking of the line-ups, who are the favourites, in your opinion?
The women’s tournament is sure to be a fiercely contested affair. Wolfsburg, Lyon and Swedish giants Rosengard – three of the top clubs in the female game – are in the mix. Besides being elite clubs, they have proven pedigree when it comes to youth development. I’m positive that they’re going to serve up some world-class football. Valencia also mustn’t be underestimated. Women’s football is very much riding the crest of a wave in Spain. Tellingly, Alexia Putellas was crowned The Best FIFA Women’s Player this year, becoming the first Spaniard to win the award. I’m convinced that Valencia will bring a very good team to Zurich.
What about the Swiss representatives?
They certainly won’t be there just to make up the numbers. FC Zurich, Grasshoppers, Young Boys and Basel have been doing outstanding work at youth level in the women’s game for many years now. Indeed, Young Boys won the first edition of the women’s tournament in 2018. I think we’re going to see some thrilling matches; I’m really psyched!
And who are you tipping for glory in the men’s event?
It’s equally tough to predict who’s going to lift the men’s trophy. Benfica and Valencia are definitely among the teams to look out for, but I’d also put Mainz among the favourites. Still, Austria Vienna and the Swiss sides will certainly be hopeful of causing an upset. It’s vital that FC Zurich, Grasshoppers and Basel hit the ground running. If they do that, anything is possible. The Swiss representatives have no reason to be fazed on the men’s front either, having always given a good account of themselves in previous editions of the competition.
You never got to play in the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup during your long and distinguished career, did you?
No, unfortunately not. When my team-mates at Grasshoppers and later at Basel used to speak about the tournament, I was always a bit jealous. They always described it as a special experience and mentioned facing off against players who went on to become big stars. Who knows? We might just get a glimpse of a future star during this year’s edition.
Are you excited about the fact that five of your former international team-mates, who played in the tournament as youngsters, will be supporting this year’s edition and participating in various activities at the Buchlern sports complex?”
I’m delighted that five great footballers and team-mates in the shape of Diego Benaglio, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Mladen Petric, Daniel Gygax and Blerim Dzemaili are going to be involved in this year’s tournament. Besides signing autographs, I’m sure they’ll enjoy chatting to people and reminiscing about the time when they played in the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup at the beginning of their fantastic careers.
Switzerland national-team coach Murat Yakin will also be stopping by. That will be another undoubted highlight, won’t it?
Absolutely, and we’re chuffed that 'Muri' will be taking the time out to visit us. He’ll be dropping by the Buchlern sports complex on the opening day of the tournament and is sure to enjoy mingling with the crowd. He’ll definitely be a popular guest, not least on account of having guided Switzerland to the World Cup in Qatar.
Do you think that this year’s tournament will draw more famous footballing faces to the Buchlern sports complex, as usual?
Yes, and that’s sure to be the case again this year. A handful of former footballers – sometimes even players from outside Switzerland – always turn out for the tournament. Everyone who comes knows that they’re guaranteed to see good football. We’re all looking forward to it; I can hardly wait for the big kick-off.