Nassim Ben Khalifa, the face of the U17 Swiss squad
In a few minutes the Swiss U-17 squad will take the field to face Colombia in the U17 World Cup semi-final. It is worth commenting that one has to look once or twice to find a name of Swiss extraction in the squad.
Nassim Ben Khalifa, their pre-eminent striker is a second generation Swiss with Tunisian roots.
Ben Khalifa has scored some big goals including the stunner against Brazil in the group stage. His extra time PK knocked off Germany in their round of 16 epic. And facing the Italians in the quarter finals, Khalifa scored the opening goal against the run of play.
He finds admirable company in muscular Haris Seferovic of Grasshoppers FC. The Bosnian born U-17 striker has kept up with Khalifa scoring three goals, including a brace against Japan.
The Swiss steel is provided by Pajtim Kasami, whose holding capabilities were spotted by Liverpool scout Piet Hamburg for their youth squad. Kasami was born in Struga, Macedonia. His trajectory is being keenly watched by a number of clubs including Lazio, his current club. The Gunners also boast Swiss representation in Bosnian born center back Sead Hajrovic, who was signed this summer from Grasshoppers for £300,000. He was also courted by Man Utd and Everton.
In Ghana, where they are still basking in their U-20 team’s accomplishment, the progress of the Swiss team is being closely watched because of Ghanian born Kofi Nimeley
Nimeley who moved to Basel when he was six with his parents is another central figure in his squad’s steel curtain that has kept them afloat in tight games. Like many other Ghanians, his hero happens to be Michael Essien.
Players like Seferovic, Pajtami, and Hajrovic are part of the influx of Balkan migrants streaming into Switzerland after the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. Over 20% of the non-EU immigration comes from the four countries of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Croatia. The Kosovo war of independence also saw thousands flee Serbia, like the parents of midfielder Granit Xhaka.
There are also sizable numbers from Africa especially from war torn Congo where reserve goalie Joel Kiassumbua is originally from. Other countries with large representation of immigrants include Turkey and Iraq. Like other EU countries, the immigration conundrum has attracted fierce opposition from far right political parties who have sought curbs and restrictions on the flow of immigration. The asylum track is different from the Swiss need for highly skilled workers with IT expertise who unsurprisingly come from India.
Switzerland has always had strong European immigration with Italians leading the way in the first significant wave of immigration in the 1870s when thousands of labourers came across the border into Locarno to build the Gotthard tunnel. EU immigration still totals about 60% of the total with Italy, Germany, and Spain leading the way. So the names Bruno Martignoni, Robin Vecchi, and Ricardo Rodriguez should not raise too many eyebrows. In fact, Severino Minelli, a Swiss-Italian defender played 80 internationals for the Swiss team and was part of their 1934 and 1938 World Cup squads.
With Gokhan Inler and Hakan Yakin, players with Turkish roots, leading the way the Swiss national team qualified comfortably ahead of Greece in their group for the 2010 World Cup. Immigration is changing the face of Switzerland with noticeable benefits to their national aspirations after languishing almost 50 years with their last significant campaign, a quarterfinal entry in the 1954 World Cup.