Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka will go head-to-head with his brother Taulant when Switzerland meet Albania in their Euro 2016 opener in Lens.
The pair will become the first siblings ever to face off against each other in a European Championship match, and Granit Xhaka – who signed for Arsenal in May – described the match up as “the last thing we could wish for”.
The 23-year-old, who joined Arsenal from Borussia Monchengladbach, will be hoping to get the better of his brother Taulant, 25, who is expected to start in midfield for Albania in the Group A match.
He told the Evening Standard: “It is a very special match for me and the family. We have already spoken about it at home.
“To play against each other is absolutely the last thing we could wish for. We have faced each other before, back when I was at Basel and my brother was on loan at Grasshopper Zürich.
“At the time, it was a very strange feeling, but nevertheless, we are both looking forward to the game, and we are professional enough to not let our close relationship be a factor in the match. May the best team win!”
The brothers were born to Albanian parents but the family moved from Kosovo to Basel in Switzerland before either of the talented siblings were born. Despite representing Switzerland at youth level, Taulant made the switch to play for Albania as a full international.
Granit explained: “My brother and I were both born and grew up in Switzerland. I saw Albania for the first time at the age of twelve, and since then I have been on holiday there many times in the summer and winter with my grandparents.
“The Albania national team never showed an interest in me, but Switzerland did. With my brother it was a different story.”
Albania’s squad contains six players who could have qualified to play for Switzerland, but their decision to play for Gianni de Biasi’s side has given the coach one of the strongest teams in the country’s history as they make their debut at a European Championship finals.
In Nantes centre-back Lorik Cana, Albania have an experienced captain, and he will be flanked by Elseid Hysaj, who enjoyed a superb season at right-back for Napoli in 2015-16.
De Biasi has no injury concerns, so Sokol Cikalleshi may operate as a lone striker, but his record of two goals in 18 international games does not bode well for Albania’s chances of finding the net.
Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic has been monitoring the fitness of Watford’s Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami, who has not been able to take a full part in training ahead of Saturday’s clash, and experienced Rennes playmaker Gelson Fernandes.
Key Opta Stats:
– Switzerland are unbeaten in their six encounters with Albania (winning five and drawing one), and have never failed to score in those meetings.
– Albania scored the fewest goals in the qualifying campaign among the 24 teams who made it to Euro 2016: seven goals in seven games effectively played (the game against Serbia was awarded as a 3-0 win to Albania).
– Switzerland have only won one of their nine games at the European Championship (2-0 v Portugal in June 2008). They have never gone past the group stages.
– Xherdan Shaqiri has scored in each of his two games with Switzerland against Albania.
– Vladimir Petkovic and Gianni De Biasi are both taking part in their first major international tournaments as managers.
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