Shaqiri leading Swiss on the right path

Group A leaders Switzerland have had several eye-catching performers at the Under-21 finals but no one has attracted as much attention as their skilful playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri.

Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates scoring the winning goal against Denmark
Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates scoring the winning goal against Denmark ©Action Images

There is little question who has proved the centre of attention for Switzerland so far at this UEFA European Under-21 Championship.

There may have been several noteworthy performers in the victories against Denmark and Iceland that have put the Swiss top of Group A ahead of Saturday's concluding fixtures, but the spotlight has shone brightest on Xherdan Shaqiri, scorer of their winning goal in the opening game against the tournament hosts.

The stocky, skilful playmaker from FC Basel 1893 showcased his abilities with that strike – cutting through Denmark's defence on a diagonal surge before finishing low across the goalkeeper. Shaqiri took home the Carlsberg Sport Man of the Match award that evening but the Kosovo-born teenager plays down his billing as Switzerland's star turn.

"That might be a bit premature," he told at Pierluigi Tami's squad's base in Hobro. "We have many good players with lots of potential and you can also say that some of them are the best players at this championship. We are the only side who have yet to concede and this shows that we are not only strong in attack but also in defence."

That defensive effort has showcased the goalkeeping ability of Yann Sommer, in particular, while midfielder Granit Xhaka – a member of his country's 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup-winning squad – and striker Innocent Emeghara, Man of the Match against Iceland, also warrant mentions. "Many underrate Switzerland," Shaqiri added. "But we are a small country with good players. Many of them play abroad and have international experience."

The 19-year-old Shaqiri has the most experience of all. He already has two Swiss championship winners' medals to his name with Basel, for whom he has registered 61 league appearances and 19 goals. He scored a goal against Debreceni VSC to help Basel qualify for the 2010/11 UEFA Champions League and another against AS Roma in the group stage.

Then there are his 11 appearances and one goal for the Switzerland A team. Yet there is no questioning his commitment to the U21s. "To me, it has always been clear that the U21s come before the senior national team and that I want to help this team. It is an honour for me to play for Switzerland in any tournament and any match I am able to."

It was certainly an honour to appear as a substitute for Switzerland against Honduras in the FIFA World Cup on 25 June last year and his hope now is to be playing on the same date this year – the day of the U21 final. "We are on a very good path," Shaqiri admitted, and him more than most.