Picture this, if you will, for a moment: a five-year-old boy named Gelson Fernandes arrives with his parents from the Cape Verde islands in the town of Sion, in Switzerland. From an Atlantic island of the coast of Africa, the family has moved to a beautiful but snowy town perched under glaciers in the French Alps. There, as he grows up, the boy shows a talent for football, and ends up training with the local academy, and beginning a career in Professional football that takes him from the modest club of FC Sion (where his father has a job as the groundskeeper) to the French club of Saint-Etienne, and onto the Swiss national team. Not known either for its impressive diversity or, for that matter, for scoring goals in World Cups, Switzerland manages to get into the World Cup, draws into a group with the much trumpeted and heavily-favored Spanish. And, in the midst of a rather crazy game, Fernandes plows through a dislocated Spanish defense, the brilliant Casillas and Pique piled on the ground around him, to score the one goal of the game. Cries of disbelief resound across the world, the Spanish, dejected, rush of the field, and Switzerland may just have a new national hero.
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The Swiss, like many Europeans recently, have gotten into a bit of whirl about immigration (to say the least). They voted to ban the construction of minarets on Mosques this past year, for instance. Might we gently suggest to them that, having profited from it so joyfully in this particularly case, they might look at things in a different light? It’s probably too much to ask. It is true, though, as a Swiss friend reminds me, that members the far-right anti-immigrant party are often among the Swiss team’s most fervent fans. Now they somehow have to figure out how to think about the fact that what will perhaps go down as Switzerland’s most remarkable international sporting victory was secured by an immigrant.
And so, mixed with our disappointment about seeing the brilliant Spanish team so unwound, we can at least revel in the fact that one of the great upsets of this World Cup was secured by a Swiss-African, who grew up in the Alps and came to shock the Spanish, and the world, in South Africa today. He may have been right to stick out his tongue, briefly, as he ran, disbelieving, in celebration.