Often in football, one man's setback can be another's window of opportunity. When Arsenal's towering centre-back Philippe Senderos was helped down the tunnel in the 53rd minute against Korea Republic in Hanover, holding his arm in obvious agony, Johan Djourou also of Arsenal and a dear friend of Senderos seized his chance without the slightest hesitation.
With only a few seconds' warm-up, the Ivorian-born defender dived into the deep end with his side defending a tenuous 1-0 lead against a strong Korean onslaught. But far from being overawed by his sudden FIFA World Cup debut, the 19-year-old Djourou who has only played six times in the league for Arsenal and figured in none of Switzerland's qualifiers took to the tempo and pace of the game without missing a beat.
"First of all, it was very hard to see a good friend and team-mate for both club and country go down with such an injury," Djourou told FIFAworldcup.com. "But after shaking that off, for me it's just great. We were playing a World Cup match against a great team in a great atmosphere and doing my part on the pitch feels absolutely great. I am very happy, but at the same time I am sad for my friend."
Go to the Switzerland team page
Having earned only four caps for Switzerland before the Hanover fixture, Djourou will need to shake off any lingering trepidation after team doctors confirmed that Senderos's dislocated shoulder would keep him out for two weeks at least, putting a premature end to his first finals.
Rather than nerves, Djourou's overriding emotion is excitement at this unexpected opportunity. "For me, football is a game that I love to play," he said. "I always want to play anywhere, any time. So I don't really get nerves. I have confidence in myself and my abilities and sure, it's natural to get a little nervous but for me I like to concentrate on more positive things and making my game better and being a better player. For me football is a joy and I want to play in every game."
Ready to go'
Up next for young Djourou and Switzerland, whose 2-0 win over the Koreans earned them first place in Group G ahead of France, is no less than a head-to-head with one of the best strikers on the planet, Andriy Shevchenko. 'Sheva' will doubtless be keen to blemish Switzerland's impressive record of no goals conceded in this tournament but Djourou has other ideas.
"Ukraine are a very dangerous team, everyone knows that. They have one of the world's best strikers in Andriy Shevchenko. But more importantly, now we know that we are a very good team too. We showed in the game with Korea that we are very strong and not to be taken lightly. Also, not conceding a goal in the group games is a tremendous achievement. We know that we have the quality to win and now we just have to take our chance."
If the Alpine country can take their chances with even a hint of the efficiency with which Djourou took his the other night, they may well have a chance of a place in the last eight provided of course the teenager can keep that man Shevchenko quiet.