Reto Ziegler has savoured the joy of winning a UEFA European Under-17 title and scoring the winning penalty in the final – making the Swiss international midfielder the ideal choice as ambassador for the second edition of the Women's U17 event in Nyon this week. No matter how many top games a footballer takes part in, to be called upon to act as an ambassador for a UEFA European competition is still considered as a major honour to be accepted.
The 23-year-old UC Sampdoria player comes from the region where the UEFA European Women's U17 Championship finals will be played, and UEFA is based. He cut his footballing teeth in local clubs before moving up the football ladder on a journey that has taken him to Servette FC and Grasshopper-Club, to England with Tottenham Hotspur FC and Wigan Athletic FC, and to Germany with Hamburger SV.
In addition, Ziegler has first-hand experience of what it is like to win a European title with his country. In Denmark in 2002, he stayed cool and calm in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out in the final against France to score the vital spot-kick that gave Switzerland the men's U17 crown. Since then, Ziegler has captained his country at U21 level, scoring his maiden goal for the senior team last November – a cracking shot for a 1-0 win against Finland in St Gallen. "I'm really looking forward to seeing the matches, because I've never actually been able to see a women's match live," Ziegler told uefa.com. "Women's football has got bigger in recent years, and I'm here to help promote [the event]. Let's hope both male and female spectators will come and watch the games."
Ziegler understands the pride that the young women players of France, Germany, Norway and Spain will feel when they pull on their national-team shirt in Monday's semi-finals at the Colovray Stadium. He still gets a considerable buzz when wearing Swiss colours. "It doesn't change if you wear the U17 shirt or the senior-team shirt," Ziegler reflected. "It's a big honour to play for the national team and I'm always pleased when I can play for my country – I don't need any motivation to go on the pitch and give everything. It was always my dream as a youngster. I worked hard, and I hope I might be an example for the youngsters in this part of Switzerland and elsewhere in the country... it is possible to become a professional player."
A penalty shoot-out in a European national-team final is enough to test the mettle of a player of any age. Yet Ziegler remembers being free of undue nerves when he stepped up for the vital spot-kick in the 2002 U17 final in Farum, Denmark. Switzerland were 3-2 ahead in the shoot-out against France after a goalless draw. Ziegler knew that to beat the French goalkeeper would give the Swiss a cherished first European crown.
"I remember the feeling well because I was really concentrated," Ziegler recalled. "I knew it was the important penalty - it was the last one. I thought about my family, and about my brother [Ronald, a useful midfield player in the Swiss lower leagues], because they were always there for me. I wanted to score, and I have to say I was very relaxed." The spot-kick was successful – cue Swiss celebrations – and hero Ziegler let his emotions go. "
It was fantastic, and even now that I play at other levels, it's the best memory I have in my career, because it's the only day I cried at winning something!" A UEFA European champion as ambassador for a UEFA European Championship – and a local boy made good – is an ideal representative for a tournament to be hosted on UEFA's doorstep.
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