Vladimir Petkovic spoke of a desire for Switzerland to leave their mark at Euro 2016, to have fans talking about their performances “even two years from now”. He might be lucky if they discuss this game for more than two hours, but Granit Xhaka will certainly have tongues wagging.
History was made in Lens on Saturday as Granit and Taulant became the first brothers to face one another in a European Championship match, but the younger sibling certainly claimed the bragging rights.
Taulant had shaken off a thigh problem to be fit for the biggest match in Albania’s history, and it was he who seized the ball and ran to halfway after Fabian Schar’s early goal deflated the deafening fans behind the goal, desperate to keep the belief.
— Granit Xhaka (@xhakagranit34) June 11, 2016
But after a missed half-chance and a failure to cope with the numbers once Lorik Cana saw red for a blatant handball, the Basel man was hauled off with an hour played and promptly hurled a water bottle into the dugout after some choice words with the bench.
Not so Granit. Arsenal’s new signing, sitting deeper in midfield alongside Valon Behrami, married steel with composure to keep Switzerland in control. He may have been fortunate to escape a booking for a heavy early challenge, but he broke up play in exemplary fashion whilst completing more passes than any other player on the pitch.
60 – Granit Xhaka had 60 touches in the first half, more than any other player in Albania v Switzerland. Presence. pic.twitter.com/vEuj4R0ubp
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 11, 2016
Overall, quality came in fits and starts. Xherdan Shaqiri’s wicked cross for the winner – he has now had a hand in nine goals in eight competitive internationals – was a shining moment in another frustrating display of ineffective runs and tame attempts. Haris Seferovic held the ball up well but three times missed clear opportunities to double the lead, and it took two stunning saves from Yann Sommer to deny Albania a shock point.
On this evidence, neither side is likely to trouble France for top spot in Group A. Petkovic can certainly expect his side to find a few extra gears, however – and Xhaka could be the driving force.