Loyalties tested as Albania meet Switzerland
Friday, January 1, 2016
An Albania side packed with Swiss-raised players take on a Switzerland team with a fair few Albanian speakers in their opening UEFA EURO 2016 Group A game.
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Albania make their final tournament debut against Switzerland in UEFA EURO 2016 Group A, with brothers Taulant and Granit Xhaka potentially playing on opposite sides in Lens.
• Albania have yet to win in six internationals against Switzerland (D1 L5).
• The teams' most recent encounters took place in 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying, Gianni De Biasi's Albania losing 2-0 in Lucerne and 2-1 in Tirana to Ottmar Hitzfeld's men. Xherdan Shaqiri, who has Kosovar-Albanian roots, scored for Switzerland in both matches.
• Albania's lone draw against Switzerland came at home in UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying, when Edvin Murati cancelled out Murat Yakin's opener to earn a point for a side coached by another Italian, Giuseppe Dossena.
• The countries have met in four age group competition fixtures, two each at Under-17 and U21 level, with the Swiss recording three wins and a draw.
• In four UEFA competition meetings between the nations' clubs, the Swiss sides' record is also W3 D1. Most recently, Thun eliminated Vllaznia 2-1 on aggregate in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League second qualifying round.
EURO facts – Albania
• Albania are one of two teams making their major tournament debut at UEFA EURO 2016 along with Iceland.
• Albania's record in qualifying was W4 D2 L2; prior to a 3-0 victory in Armenia in their final qualifier, they had not scored in three competitive games (D1 L2), which included two home defeats.
EURO facts – Switzerland
• Switzerland's record in qualifying was W7 D0 L3, two of those defeats coming against Group E winners England. They won their last two competitive games, scoring eight goals and conceding none.
• This is Switzerland's first European championship final tournament since they co-hosted UEFA EURO 2008 with Austria. They lost their opening two matches and bowed out at the group stage despite a 2-0 triumph against Portugal in their last game.
• That success against Portugal was Switzerland's first win in nine EURO finals contests (W1 D2 L6). They have yet to make it through the group stage in three finals appearances.
• Switzerland have reached the finals of the last three World Cups, opening two of them with victories – 1-0 against Spain in 2010 and 2-1 versus Ecuador in 2014 – and drawing 0-0 with France in 2006.
• The only Swiss side to have played a competitive game in Lens is Young Boys, who lost 5-1 to Lens in a 2007/08 UEFA Cup second qualifying round match.
Coach and player links
• Albania midfielder Taulant Xhaka could face his younger brother, Switzerland midfielder Granit. The siblings were born in Basel to Kosovar-Albanian parents and both represented Switzerland at youth level. They would be the first brothers to meet in a EURO game.
• There is some precedent for this: Germany's Jérôme Boateng has twice played against Ghana sides featuring his brother Kevin-Prince Boateng at World Cup final tournaments. Germany won 1-0 in 2010 and drew 2-2 in 2014.
• The game is taking place the day after Switzerland defender Steve von Bergen's 33rd birthday and the day before his team-mate Eren Derdiyok turns 28.
• As well as Granit Xhaka, Switzerland's Valon Behrami, Admir Mehmedi and Xherdan Shaqiri are from Kosovar-Albanian families, while Blerim Džemaili is also of Albanian extraction.
• Albania's Amir Abrashi, Arlind Ajeti, Migjen Basha, Shkëlzen Gashi and Frédéric Veseli were all born in Switzerland, while team-mates Naser Aliji, Lorik Cana, Burim Kukeli and Ermir Lenjani spent significant parts of their childhood in the Alpine nation.
• Albania captain Cana made his senior international debut against Switzerland, coming on as a substitute in a 3-2 UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying loss in June 2003.
• Albania coach De Biasi will celebrate his 60th birthday at UEFA EURO 2016, on 16 June – the day after his side meet France in their second Group A game.
• De Biasi coached Switzerland's Džemaili at Torino in 2008/09.
• Albania's Cana and Etrit Berisha played under Switzerland coach Vladimir Petković during their time at Lazio from 2012–14.
• Albania assistant coach Erjon Bogdani and Switzerland midfielder Behrami were team-mates at Verona in 2004/05.
• Albania's Gashi, Taulant Xhaka (Basel), Kukeli, Armando Sadiku (Zürich), Aliji (Basel, Vaduz), Veseli (Lugano) and Basha (Luzern) played club football in Switzerland in 2015/16. Gashi joined the Colorado Rapids on 1 February.
• Play together:
Naser Aliji and Taulant Xhaka (Albania) & Michael Lang and Breel Embolo (Switzerland) – Basel