Granit and Taulant Xhaka made European Championships history on Saturday – becoming the first siblings to play for opposing sides in the same game since the tournament began in 1960.
New Arsenal signing, Granit - who was superb in Switzerland’s 1-0 win over his brother’s Albania – admitted that it was “bizarre” to come up against his “close” brother when he spoke to the media after the game, having been awarded man of the match.
Rossocrociati were favourites to win the game, but central defender Fabian Schar’s fifth-minute header was to be the only goal of the fiercely-contested Group A fixture.
And Xhaka, who will officially join the Gunners from Borussia Monchengladbach after the tournament, claimed that it was a “very special moment” for his family when he lined up against his brother in Lens, adding that he felt they both “played very well, we gave everything for our country and we’re very happy.”
Swiss should have made scoreline more comfortable
Switzerland should have been much more comfortable than they actually fared, especially after forward Haris Seferovic had two golden opportunities to extend the lead. However, the big striker could only find the hands of the outstanding Albanian goalkeeper, Etrit Berisha, on both occasions. Both of Seferovic’s chances came from excellent defence-splitting passes from the Swiss Xhaka, who completed a magnificent total of 102 passes throughout the contest – the most from a single player in the tournament up to that game.
Albania fought well throughout the tie, and even created some very good chances of their own, but they found Yann Sommer in superb form in the Switzerland goal. Gianni di Biasi’s side’s underdog predicament was worsened when experienced defender Lorik Cana was shown a red card nine minutes before half-time.
Cana, who was already on a yellow card, slipped while trying to defend a high ball beyond his back line and, in doing so, handled the ball to prevent Seferovic bearing down on goal. The referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo, had no choice but to produce a second yellow card for the Albania captain, although many people felt it should have been a straight red card due to the fact Cana had denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity.
Xhaka hails contest between he and Taulant under difficult circumstances
Speaking about the game and facing Taulant, Xhaka confessed that Switzerland “knew it would be a difficult game,” adding that Albania are “a great side, very compact and solid.”
Xhaka also knew the early goal was important, having seen his side struggle in the final third in their warm-up fixtures, which ultimately seemed to have a negative impact on the confidence in the camp. Recent defeats to the Republic of Ireland and Bosnia & Herzegovina, along with a late victory against Moldova, were uninspiring, so this victory will give Vladimir Petkovic's side a huge boost.
Xhaka left his nation of birth, where he played for Basel, in 2012 to join Gladbach. Taulant still plies his trade for Basel, the city in which he and Granit were both born, and Granit paid tribute to the contest between the pair under difficult circumstances, claiming that he does not think “anyone can hold anything against us,” adding, “we fought against one another, and it was a football match, nothing more.”