When Switzerland's Youth Stunned the World at the 2009 Under-17 World Cup
In 2009, football witnessed action all across Africa, where the continent hosted several tournaments throughout the year. South Africa began with the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, and Egypt followed with the FIFA U-20 World Cup edition, where Ghana emerged as champions.
Then came Nigeria and its chance to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria. It was an opportunity for the hosts to field another talented U-17 team to seek an unprecedented fourth title. Instead, an unheralded European upstart defied all odds to win this tournament.
Switzerland was in its first FIFA U-17 World Cup, and the roster featured an influx of multicultural players from different nationalities, including those of Spanish, Chilean, Portuguese, Tunisian, Macedonian, Bosnian and Kosovar descents.
Switzerland did not just ride an unlikely triumph at the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup. Instead, Switzerland swept its way into the history books, and in the nearly ten years since that triumph in Nigeria, Switzerland reaped the rewards of that success.
Surviving Tests in Iceland and Greece
For Switzerland, the road to Nigeria began in 2008 in Iceland as Switzerland faced the hosts as well as Norway and Ukraine. Switzerland started with a 2-1 victory over Iceland before two scoreless draws against Norway and Ukraine. Those results saw Switzerland qualify for the next phase of qualifying, the elite round of European qualifying, in second place.
Switzerland faced tougher opposition as its next three opponents fared better during qualifying. Poland and Greece were previous group winners from the last stage, while Slovenia eliminated host Russia to reach this part of the competition.
Switzerland had to win its group in Greece to qualify for the World Cup. Things were not as Switzerland trailed Greece, 1-0 until a 50th-minute goal would ultimately determine a group winner. Haris Seferovic scored to the match finished 1-1; two days later, Seferovic scored again, but that goal proved decisive against Poland.
Switzerland needed to achieve a better result against Slovenia than Greece would against Poland. Switzerland outclassed Slovenia as Seferovic scored another goal, and Nassim Ben Khalifa scored a hat trick in the second half. Switzerland's 6-0 victory, coupled with Greece's 2-1 loss to Poland, meant Switzerland qualified for the 2009 UEFA U-17 Championship. From there, Switzerland would reach the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup provided it did not finish last in its group.
Emulating the Stars from 2002
Switzerland may not have the prestigious youth history in soccer, but the nation did win the 2002 UEFA U-17 Championship. In that tournament, future stars emerged in Tranquillo Barnetta, Philippe Senderos, and Reto Ziegler.
Switzerland had a tricky group in Germany as it would have to face the previous year's finalists in France and Spain. For Switzerland, a crucial moment came in its second match against Italy when Italy's goalkeeper Mattia Perin received a red card for his foul on Ben Khalifa. Switzerland capitalized on the ensuing penalty that Kofi Nimeley converted. Italy tied the match, but Switzerland fared better in the second half as it scored twice to win the game 3-1.
Draws against France and Spain saw Switzerland win the group, but would lose in the semi-finals to the Netherlands. The scoreless draw against Spain allowed Switzerland to reach the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Switzerland did lose to the Netherlands 2-0, but Switzerland had upset the odds to reach the World Cup in Nigeria.
Now, Switzerland looked for more than pride in Africa.
When Switzerland upset Neymar and Brazil
Upsetting the Odds
When the groups came about for the FIFA U-17 World Cup on Aug. 7, 2009, Switzerland had the toughest draw among the six European nations in the tournament. Switzerland would face 2005 champions Mexico, Japan, and three-time champions Brazil. The European country had the lowest odds of advancing past the group stage. So the nation looked to approach this tournament just as it did at the UEFA U-17 Championship with defense and timely scoring.
Switzerland did that on Oct. 24 against Mexico in unlikely fashion. His goal in the 22nd minute was not only Switzerland's first at this level, but Pajtim Kasami scored the opening goal of the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup. Switzerland played despite having less possession and having a man down. But the defense kept Mexico at bay as goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist stopped Mexico's offense. Switzerland won on its debut 2-0 against a former champion.
Three days later, Switzerland faced Japan when Takumi Miyayoshi scored twice in the opening 20 minutes before Seferovic scored right before halftime. Switzerland attacked early in the second half: a Ben Khalifa penalty, which the Japanese goalkeeper saved before Seferovic's ensuing kick that struck the crossbar. Seferovic capitalized minutes later, however, to score his second of the match before Granit Xhaka scored to complete the comeback. Another goal by Ricardo Rodriguez had Switzerland on the verge of a knockout berth. Despite allowing a late goal, Switzerland hung to win 4-3 and was assured a place in the knockout stage.
Switzerland continued its momentum as it denied Neymar and Brazil any goals on 25 shots. Ben Khalifa was the difference as his goal in the 21st minute meant Switzerland won the group. More important in the game was that Brazil had accumulated four yellow cards in the match, ultimately denying Brazil a knockout stage appearance because of its disciplinary record.
Knockout Magic and the Miracle at Abuja
Switzerland would be favorites against Germany, winners of the 2009 UEFA U-17 Championship, in the Round of 16. Germany finished third in group play, beginning with a 3-3 draw to host Nigeria after leading 3-0. However, it had been 33 years since Switzerland defeated Germany at any level in football.
Rodriguez and Seferovic scored goals during regulation for Switzerland, but Germany answered on both occasions. With the match tied at 2-2 and extra time looming, Switzerland nearly suffered a devastating blow. Having come on as a substitute in the 83rd minute, Sead Hajrovic received a red card for a dangerous tackle. Despite the man disadvantage, Switzerland capitalized on poor German defending as Andre Goncalves to score before Ben Khalifa scored added another a penalty kick to put Switzerland up 4-2. Despite allowing a goal late, Switzerland held on to knock out another pre-tournament favorite.
In Switzerland's quarterfinal, Ben Khalifa opened the scoring for Switzerland against Italy. After missing earlier in the match on a long-range shot, Ben Khalifa scored in the 24th minute before Italy replied on a goal from Federico Carraro. Sent off in the team's first match, Oliver Buff provided his most significant contribution, with a goal during a corner kick putting Switzerland up 2-1. Switzerland was in danger of relinquishing the lead quickly when captain Frederic Veseli was shown a straight red card after taking down Giacomo Beretta in the penalty box. Siegrist stopped the ensuing penalty kick, and Switzerland won once again.
Switzerland's semi-final opponent had luck en route to reaching this far. Colombia needed late goals to advance and force a penalty shootout after it had begun its campaign upsetting the Netherlands. This time around, Switzerland had its best game in ending Colombia's run in the tournament. The game started with an early dismissal from Colombia's Santiago Aria, and Ben Khalifa capitalized by scoring on the ensuing penalty before Seferovic doubled the lead for Switzerland. Seferovic's goal ranked second as the tournament's best goal. By then, Switzerland had an attacking prowess. Colombia had no answers as Switzerland added goals from Bruno Martignoni and Rodriguez to win the match 4-0.
Switzerland made history as it played in its first FIFA-sanctioned tournament final in 85 years. Only Nigeria stood between Switzerland and history; the African nation also attempted to win the U-17 championship for an unprecedented fourth time. From the beginning, Nigeria looked likely to score first as they had scored 17 goals in the first six games. Siegrist was tested several times but prevented any goals from going into the net.
Switzerland acquired one substantial opportunity in the first half from Janick Kamber, but Nigerian goalkeeper Dami Paul stopped that attempt. Still, Nigeria held more possession and the chances, but all that was to show for was a scoreless stalemate.
Switzerland was where it wanted to be, and they would go on the offense for the second half, with Seferovic leading the way. Despite missing an earlier attempt wide of the goal, Seferovic capitalized off a corner kick as his header put Switzerland on the cusp of history. Nigeria launched several opportunities to tie the match, but in the end, time ran out. Switzerland had upset all odds and finally achieved a title for the first time.
Let the Celebrations Begin
Aftermath: Switzerland's Youth Were the Future
There is no question that since the triumph in Nigeria, the key players who made that tournament special still showcase their talents abroad.
Having scored the competition's opening goal, Kasami went on to score another brilliant goal on a volley in club football during an English Premier League match for Fulham. That goal, coming in a 4-1 victory at Crystal Palace's Selhurst Park, would be one of ten nominated goals for the 2014 FIFA Puskas Award (Goal of the Year). On the international youth level, Kasami, along with Ben Khalifa and Sommer, helped Switzerland qualify for the 2011 UEFA U-21 Championships - each player having scored goals against Sweden. In the 2011 UEFA U-21 Championships, Switzerland not only reached the final of the tournament but secured its first Olympic soccer tournament since 1928 in the process.
Through he helped Switzerland reach the Olympics, Xhaka withdrew from the Olympics. German club Borussia Mönchengladbach requested the Swiss FA to allow Xhaka to train with the club in preparation for an upcoming UEFA Champions League play-off. Xhaka joined Switzerland's senior national team, and his participation in all 10 World Cup qualifiers helped Switzerland qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. His goal in Switzerland's final qualifier, a 1-0 victory against Slovenia, proved crucial as Switzerland become a seeded nation ahead of the 2014 World Cup draw.
Xhaka did score in the World Cup, albeit a consolation goal as France thumped Switzerland 5-2 in Salvador, Brazil. Five days earlier, Switzerland did defeat Ecuador to open World Cup play. It came from Seferovic, and his 93rd-minute goal became Ecuador - the latest game-winning goal in a World Cup group stage match. This goal came nearly a year after Seferovic scored a winning goal late against Cyprus in a World Cup qualifier.
In the ten years since the triumph in Nigeria, Switzerland's achievement was a testament to its multicultural influences that were significant in 2014. Switzerland's success in 2009 is all about incorporating the impacts that we have, no matter who people are, but instead whom people play for that counts.
2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria
- FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 - Overview - FIFA.com
Switzerland defied all pre-tournament odds to capture its first ever FIFA tournament in Nigeria. Take a loot at all statistics for all 24 teams, including Switzerland.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Antonio Martinez