Switzerland opened their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ campaign with a victory, but it was a close-run as the Europeans struggled for long spells against a disciplined and pacey Ecuador side. It was 75th minute substitute Haris Seferovic who ultimately sealed it for Ottmar Hitzfeld's men with a goal in the third minute of added time to earn a 2–1 win.
It is not the first time the Real Sociadad striker has put away a crucial goal for his country, he netted the only goal of the game in the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2009 in Nigeria against the host nation.
So is Seferovic always to be relied on for match-winning strikes? "It fell to me today just like it did at the U-17 World Cup, but I just want to play and keep scoring goals, not only decisive ones," he told FIFA.com after the match. The player said he was even more delighted with the goal on Sunday night than with his trophy-winning strike five years ago. "Let's face it, this is the real World Cup and the level is much higher, much better, and everything is much quicker."
However, Seferovic is not content with the role of super sub, a feeling he shares with Switzerland's second scorer on the day. Hitzfeld introduced Admir Mehmedi for the second half, and the Freiburg attacking midfielder made an instant impression by levelling the scores with his first touch of the ball.
One for the history booksThe 23-year-old became a history-maker with that strike. It was not just that he ended Switzerland's 266-minute goalless spell at the finals but he also became the first substitute to score a World Cup goal for his country.
"I didn't know that," he told FIFA.com with a smile on his face. "It obviously makes it even more special. It's terrific, and I'm really, really delighted. I can't put my feelings into words." Seferovic and Mehmedi have thrust themselves into the limelight and have certainly made it hard for their seasoned coach to ignore their claims for starting berths in the next match.
Neither man is going public with any such demand, but neither is making any secret of his desperate desire to play. “I think I've played well and trained hard throughout the pre-tournament period. I was disappointed not to be in the starting line-up today. But I'm a professional, I've made sure I was ready and I'll keep battling away," declared Mehmedi, whose goal on Sunday doubled his tally for his country.
France up nextThe Swiss now approach a crucial encounter with France in high spirits. "We have more courage and pride and we'll go into the match with a lot of confidence. We're not scared of the French," Seferovic declared. The player dedicated the match-winning strike to his father, “because it's his birthday today and he has always been there for me."
Victory over the French would all but guarantee Switzerland a place in the Round of 16, after which the sky could be the limit. Seferovic, Ricardo Rodriguez and Granit Xhaka, who also featured in Nigeria back in 2009, know all about collecting the top honour on the global stage.
Despite the fact they are among the youngest players in the squad, they are only too keen to share their experience with their team-mates. "We already have a bit of experience when it comes to the World Cup and the way a tournament like this is organised. We’re trying to pass that on," Seferovic confirmed. However, the leadership roles would be left to the more experienced men, “and us fresh, young players will simply keep trying to do our best."
After Sunday's last-minute triumph, it will be interesting to see how far the mix of youthful exuberance and practiced experience can take Hitzfeld's side.