Angelo Schirinzi: “They Are All Crazy”
Success for the Swiss national beach soccer team, which has qualified for the 2017 World Cup. A conversation with the national coach Angelo Schirinzi about the astounding development of this sport, real passion, and the philosophy of his team. (Part 1)
Interview: Michael Krobath
Angelo Schirinzi, congratulations: Thanks to coming second in the European qualifier tournament, Switzerland is heading to the 2017 World Cup. Were you expecting this success?
Not in the least. It was a tough job. Out of the 28 countries, only the four best qualified. Things can always go wrong, as shown by the example of Russia: The two-time world champion missed out on qualifying.
Did Switzerland benefit from luck of the draw?
As the world number 6, we were placed in the first group phase and had relatively easy opponents. But the second group phase was very challenging. After winning against upandcoming Turkey and Azerbaijan, it came to a deciding match against Spain. We had a very good day and won against the world number 9 by a surprisingly large margin of 8:3.
In the final, Switzerland did not live up to expectations as the favorite and lost 3:9 against Poland. Did nerves get in the way?
That wasn't the issue. After the fantastic semi-final win against Portugal – the current world number 1 – we were simply worn out. On top of that, we were three players down in the final, due to injuries and bans. Nonetheless, we should have won the game. It was a frustrating defeat.
The supremacy of Brazil – the motherland of beach soccer – came to an end in 2011 with the Russian World Cup title. Who dominates the sport today?
Very clearly Europe. We have a high concentration of success, with 6 nations in the top 10 in the world. In addition, there are high-class teams from Asia, with Japan and Iran, as well as the ever-stronger South Americans.
How does Switzerland, with zero miles of sand coast, manage to be so good at beach soccer?
Because our national team functions like a club team and trains together the whole year round. We meet four times a week in Basel. And they also all train twice a week with their home club.
Are they all professionals?
Professionals only exist in a few countries like Russia, Brazil, and Portugal. But in our case everybody works. Our top striker duo, Dejan Stankovic and Noel Ott, work part-time (60%) as commercial employees, while all the others work full-time. Captain Moritz Jäggy is a lawyer, and we have engineers, foremen, primary school teachers, and pharmacists in our ranks. Outside of work, their lives revolve around beach soccer. That is a big commitment that everyone has made. In fact, it is madness. They are all crazy – in a good way.
Why would you do that to yourself?
The reward is an exceptional team spirit. And we go on unforgettable trips around the world. We play in front of thousands of spectators on the most beautiful beaches in Europe, South America, and Asia. These are unforgettable experiences. And we are representing Swiss football at a FIFA World Cup for the fourth time now. That is something to be proud of.
What are the strengths of this team?
Our immense experience. The Jäggy brothers, Stankovic, and Spaccarotella have been doing this for more than 10 years now. They were European champions in 2005, runner-up world champions in 2009, and have won countless world and European league tournaments.
And what are the players' strengths?
We are physically strong and tactically very well trained. We are very innovative and always try to take new approaches. For example, two years ago we redefined the role of the goalkeeper. As soon as we have possession of the ball, he becomes a field player who is involved in attacking, which creates a numbers advantage. Now all the teams are trying to copy us.
The Swiss goal ratio was 60:23 after the eight matches of the qualification tournament. Is that a reflection of the playing philosophy?
Absolutely. We always want to play forward constructively. We try to stay forward, keep the ball in our ranks, and come at the opponent's goal with great combinations. That comes with its risks, and we still concede too many goals against the stronger teams. That is something we need to work on.
Will the 2017 World Cup in the Bahamas be the farewell tour of this very successful generation?
No. You can easily play beach soccer at the highest level until the age of 35 or 36. "Mo" Jäggy is 33 and has indicated that he will play for another two years, Stankovic is only 31. Last year we successfully began the cross-generational transition and now the squad already has half a dozen players aged between 20 and 24.
Does Switzerland have a realistic chance of winning the World Cup title?
15 years ago I dreamed of becoming European champion, and in 2005 that dream became a reality. 10 years ago I dreamed of World Cup participation, and that also came true in 2009. So one can always dream. But we certainly won't travel to the World Cup with our expectations too high. That would just create unnecessary pressure. We learned that from the past.