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Swiss hero Shaqiri embraces star billing

Published: Sunday 12 June 2011, 3.07CET
In his match-winning display, Xherdan Shaqiri played with a lightness of touch that belied the weight of responsibility he has assumed as Switzerland's No10 at these finals.
by Patrick Hart
from Aalborg Stadion
 

Photos

Published: Sunday 12 June 2011, 3.07CET

Swiss hero Shaqiri embraces star billing

In his match-winning display, Xherdan Shaqiri played with a lightness of touch that belied the weight of responsibility he has assumed as Switzerland's No10 at these finals.

If Xherdan Shaqiri has the mantle of a star player at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Denmark, it hardly weighed heavily on the 19-year-old's shoulders during his match-winning performance against the host nation on Saturday.

Shaqiri, a player with more senior caps than U21 ones, embellished his first appearance for Pierluigi Tami's team since November 2009 with a fine individual goal that defeated the Danes in the 1-0 Switzerland victory in Aalborg.

You would be justified in saying that his surge from outside the penalty area and resulting strike past goalkeeper Mikkel Andersen had been coming for the preceding 47 minutes of the Group A game. The FC Basel 1893 playmaker, seven days after helping Switzerland earn a UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying draw with England at Wembley, looked every inch the international-class No10.

"There was a lot of pressure but I like this pressure and I like to play on a big stage like this," he explained of his seemingly effortless transition back to the U21 fold. "I was happy to be able to help the team. I think you always feel pressure when you go back down and play for the Under-21s from the A team. Expectations are high. So I want to perform well here and I was able to do so against Denmark. I am delighted we got the win."

Operating as the attacking hub behind lone Swiss forward Admir Mehmedi, with support from Fabian Frei and Innocent Emeghara, Shaqiri also managed to eclipse Denmark's own trumpeted schemer-in-chief, Christian Eriksen. "Individually they have good players such as Eriksen who has played for the national team," Shaqiri expanded. "We saw they are full of quality but we were able to contain them and maybe we were a little bit better, which was reflected in the scoreline."

The end result certainly augurs well for Tami's men in Group A – and, on this evidence, probably beyond. "Well, I think if you win against the hosts, then you have good chance of success. We have great potential. We gave a great performance and if we continue like this we have a good chance."

No surprise then that Mehmedi – one of four 'veterans' of Wembley along with Shaqiri, Emeghara and defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka – waxed lyrical about the display when he spoke to UEFA.com: "It's a brilliant result for us. Not only are the three points a big achievement, so is the fact we've kept a clean sheet against the hosts. We played very well, our quick passing game was good, and we created chances. Overall I think we deserved the win."

Another contributory factor was the defiance of Switzerland No1 Yann Sommer as the Danes bombarded his penalty box during the final half-hour. "Our keeper deserves praise because he made a couple of really important saves," FC Zürich attacker Mehmedi added. "Another win is now the target against Iceland on Tuesday but we can't underestimate them. Every team at this tournament is here for a reason."

Last updated: 12/06/11 13.32CET

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