BERNE - It takes something special to make Switzerland's dour coach Ottmar Hitzfeld show any emotion and teenager Xherdan Shaqiri's hat-trick against Bulgaria did the trick.
The 19-year-old brought a half-empty stadium to life and rescued Switzerland's hopes of reaching Euro 2012, albeit via the roundabout play-off route, with his stunning treble in Tuesday's 3-1 win over Bulgaria in Basel
Even more impressively, it brought a broad smile to the face of Hitzfeld, who one Swiss newspaper described as giving the same monotone tactical explanations whether his team had won brilliantly or lost dismally.
Shaqiri's performance added to the hope that Swiss football has finally uncovered a player with genuine flair and panache, a reward for intense youth development work which has been carried out in the country over the last 15 years.
Short and stocky, Kosovo-born Shaqiri made his professional debut at 17, his international debut less than one year later and was last month voted as Switzerland's Player of the Year.
He also led Switzerland to the final of the European Under-21 Championships in Denmark this year.
He is at his best playing wide on the right wing, then cutting inside to fire in shots with his left-foot, the route which led to all three of his goals against Bulgaria.
Many of Europe's biggest clubs have reportedly been eyeing the player, whose value currently stands at 10 million euros according to the specialist website Transfermarkt.
Football is awash with stories of players such as Shaqiri who have gone astray, but the youngster appears to be keeping his feet on the ground.
Staying at FC Basel, where he was raised, rather than going straight to a big foreign club, where he may have ended up in the reserves, has also helped his development.
He has already won the Swiss League title twice, the cup once and will this season play in the Champions League for the second time in a row.
Hitzfeld and his club coach Thorsten Fink have both tried to made sure that Shaqiri does not get carried with the adulation.
"He contacted me personally to make sure I was well prepared for the media circus that followed... the call-up to the 2010 World Cup squad," Shaqiri said of Hitzfeld in a recent interview.
"It helped keep my feet on the ground, and those around me too."
"There will always be setbacks, big and small, but the trick is to never lose sight of your goal. Just as you should never forget to have respect and remain humble."
Shaqiri also refuses to be carried away by transfer talk.
"I don't listen to any of that. I concentrate on what I have to do at FC Basel and perform... that leaves no time to deal with any speculation," he said.
"If I let myself get distracted, my performance will suffer."comments