Few players past and present can lay claim to being a current FIFA World Cup™ record holder, but former goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbuhler is one of them. The 51-time Switzerland international holds the accolade of conceding the fewest goals at a World Cup tournament, playing every minute of La Nati’s Germany 2006 campaign without conceding in normal time.
A formidable figure between the sticks at that tournament, Zubi was tasked with keeping the likes of Thierry Henry, Park Jisung and Emmanuel Adebayor at bay in the group stages, not to mention Ukraine’s Andriy Shevchenko in the Round of 16. Despite going over 390 minutes without conceding, the then 35-year-old was unable to prevent his side from exiting the competition on penalties against Ukraine in Cologne; a cruel way to bow out after such a valiant run of consecutive clean sheets.
“I had a beautiful time at Germany 2006 but to go out of the tournament knowing that you hadn’t conceded a goal, it was definitely strange,” said Zuberbuhler, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com. “You would be sitting at home days later watching the rest of the games still knowing that you hadn’t conceded, in some ways it was hard to understand.
“It’s nice to know that I have a World Cup record for those clean sheets but I would say that we have the record because all the players helped me.
“To play in a World Cup is fantastic but to play in Germany, next to Switzerland, was even better,” he continued. “We had so much support from the Swiss people there, it was incredible. We had a great team spirit and our manager, Kobi Kuhn, always got the best out of you. You wanted to give everything out on the pitch for him.”
Ten years on from Germany 2006, Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer is the one now tasked with keeping goal for Switzerland – a shot-stopper that Zuberbuhler saw develop into the talent he is now. When Zubi was the first-choice goalkeeper at FC Basel, a young Sommer was making a name for himself in the youth ranks. There and then Zuberbuhler, now a goalkeeper coach at English Championship side Derby County, knew the current Swiss No1 was destined for big things.
“In his younger years, you knew Yann Sommer had something special and was going to be a massive talent,” he said. “People said that he was too short, but goalkeepers don’t need to be tall. He’s a modern keeper, comes for the crosses well and has great timing which is so important – it’s not important to be 6'5 (1.96).”
Before taking on his current role as goalkeeping coach at Derby in July 2015, Zuberbuhler embarked on a road less travelled with a few stints training the Philippines national team goalkeepers between 2011 and 2015. It was the wish of former Fulham team-mate and Azkals shot-stopper Neil Etheridge that took him to the other side of the world, where he began making his transition from player to coach.
“Neil Etheridge asked me to go to the Philippines and help out with the coaching there and I thought: ‘Why not?’ Why not go on an adventure?” Zuberbuhler said. “It was a challenge going from one extreme to the other. You would go from having top-class facilities in Europe to working in a park in the Philippines where there might not even be goalposts. But the players wanted to work day and night and always had a smile on their face.
“I still keep in touch with them. I stopped this year as I have twins and I need to spend time with them during the international break. It’s a beautiful country, Manila is an amazing city and the people are always smiling. It was a truly great experience.”
Swiss sights on Russia 2018
With three wins from three in World Cup qualifying, including a 2-0 victory against current European kings Portugal, Switzerland sit top of Group B ahead of their next preliminary, at home to Faroe Islands.
While small in stature compared to their surrounding neighbours, Vladimir Petkovic’s Switzerland boast big names among their ranks – from Xherdan Shaqiri to Granit Xhaka, as well as up-and-coming talent Breel Embolo.
“Our national team at the moment is very young and those exciting players are playing in the highest leagues in Europe and showing how good they are. We shouldn’t be scared of any other country,” asserted Zuberbuhler. “It’s been a fantastic start, particularly the win against Portugal, but Switzerland have to keep going.
“The national team coach is taking them in the right direction and if they keep working like this, I think they can be very successful in the future.”