By Brian Homewood
BERNE, June 6 (Reuters) - If Switzerland are going to shed their reputation as World Cup party-poopers, then their impish winger Xherdan Shaqiri is the man to do it.
Fun is not a word usually associated with Switzerland's national team, who have scored five goals and conceded one in their last seven games at the World Cup, yet it is something the 22-year-old Kosovo-born player thrives on.
Cheeky and instinctive, the Bayern Munich player looks like he might have learned the game playing on the streets of South America and, at 1.69 metres, has the same squat figure as some of Argentina's more impetuous players.
Enormously difficult to dispossess, Shaqiri's habit of running at the opposition, turning and firing in a quick shot or cross with his left foot creates a sense of danger every time he has possession. At Bayern, he has also learned the art of threading incisive balls in between defenders.
"He lives on the fun that he has on the pitch and if there's no fun, it becomes difficult for him. He's a real street footballer," said Thorsten Fink, who coached him at Basel.
Shaqiri, raised at Basel, made his professional debut at 17, his international debut one year later and was voted Switzerland's Player of the Year in 2011 while still a teenager.
When he joined Bayern in the 2012 close season, there were worries that he could disappear into the reserve team or be loaned out to a lesser club.
But he has adapted well and, although not a regular starter, has been given plenty of playing time. He deserved his Champions League, German Cup and Bundesliga winners' medals last season as much as any of his team mates.
His international highlights include a hat-trick in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria and a spectacular long-range effort against England.
He clearly enjoyed himself in this season's friendly against Brazil, when he subjected the South Americans to the sort of trickery they usually dish out to others.
"There is no danger of him disappearing into oblivion," said Jupp Heynckes, the coach who brought him to Bayern.
"He has everything a footballer needs and shows that every day in training."
Shaqiri's second season at Bayern has not been as impressive as his first and he has been plagued by nagging muscular injuries, the most recent of which sidelined him from April 5 until the end of the Bundesliga season.
But he insisted that he has recovered and gave a lively performance in the 1-0 friendly win over Jamaica at the end of May.
(Reporting By Brian Homewood; editing by Justin Palmer and Toby Davis)
- Sports & Recreation
- Xherdan Shaqiri
- Bayern Munich