BANGKOK – Having been a pivotal figure in the Switzerland team that stunned the world in winning the Under-17 World Cup on the country’s maiden appearance in the tournament in 2009, Charyl Chappuis is no stranger to surprises.
Fast-forward seven years and the Swiss-born midfielder is now part of a Thailand side plotting to make one of the biggest upsets in Asian World Cup qualifying history when it faces Japan in a final-round Group B clash in Bangkok on Tuesday.
Chappuis’ face lights up when he recalls playing against a Japan team that featured current senior international Takashi Usami in the Group phase of the U-17 World Cup.
Switzerland came from 2-0 down to win that game 4-3 and eventually went on to win the trophy by beating tournament host and defending champions Nigeria 1-0 in the final.
“After 20 minutes we were losing 2-0. It was the craziest 20 minutes of my life,” Chappuis told Kyodo News after Thailand’s training session on Sunday.
“They played like a FIFA (video) game and were amazing, but then we changed our tactics a little bit and in the end we won 4-3. It was a group with Mexico and Brazil in it and I have to say Japan was actually the best team we played against in the group.
“But when it is European teams against Asian teams you are always a little bit better physically than they are.”
Chappuis, one of the stars of Thailand’s 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup triumph, came on as a late substitute in Thursday’s 1-0 World Cup qualifying defeat away to Saudi Arabia.
Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang has reportedly hinted that the 24-year-old, who came back from a 16-month knee injury layoff in April, could see more playing time in Tuesday’s match at Rajamangala National Stadium.
Chappuis admits that Thailand has modest goals in the final round of qualifying, but having enjoyed such stunning success during his youth with Switzerland, he has warned against writing off the War Elephants’ chances of beating Japan.
“We are looking game-to-game and a top four place (in the group) would be amazing,” said Chappuis.
“Nobody was thinking that Switzerland would win the (U-17) World Cup so everything is possible in football and we only enjoy every single moment we play in big competitions.
“It was always my goal to come back after a long injury because I wanted to have this atmosphere with a full stadium at home.
“It’s a big game, we are playing at home and of course Japan are the favorites. They also lost their last (qualifying) game (against the United Arab Emirates on Thursday) so they need these three points.
“But we only enjoy the moment when we can play in a big game against Japan at home. We will try our best and have prepared very well with our coach.”
Chappuis follows the Bundesliga and knows all about the likes of Japan captain Makoto Hasebe, who plays for Eintracht Frankfurt, and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa.
Chappuis started his career with Swiss club Grasshoppers II in 2009 and as a 17-year-old reportedly turned down offers from Italian giant Juventus and Germany’s SV Hamburg because he thought he was too young to leave home.
He moved to the Thai Premier League in 2013 after being courted by champions Buriram United due to his Thai parentage and currently plays for TPL side Suphanburi.
Chappuis has experience playing with Buriram in the Asian Champions League and that has further deepened his knowledge of the Japanese game.
Asked who poses the biggest threat from Japan in Tuesday’s match, Chappuis said, “I think we have to look out for everyone. Most of them play in Europe. I was born in Switzerland and follow the Bundesliga a lot so Kagawa, Hasebe and all those kind of players.
“I mean for us, Thai players and staff, Japan’s players are idols. I’ve already played in the ACL against Japanese teams so we know how they play and how fast they are and good technically. Everybody is dangerous.”
Thailand was unlucky not to take a point off the Saudis, succumbing to a late penalty in Riyadh.
“It was a foul of course for the penalty and a bit naive from us but we also should have had a penalty in the first half, but in the end that is football,” Chappuis shrugged.
“We can’t change anything, but our fans were sad and it would have been nice for them if we could have got a point. I think we played really well and fought as a team and nobody was thinking that Saudi would get so many problems from us.”