Switzerland vs. Albania: Brotherly love tested as Granit Xhaka triumphs

Updated 2:13 PM EDT, Sat June 11, 2016

Story highlights

Switzerland beats Albania 1-0 in Group A

Fabian Schar scores Swiss goal

Albania's Lorik Cana red carded

Swiss and France each have three points

(CNN) —  

Less brothers in arms, more brothers at each other’s throats – metaphorically speaking – as sibling rivalry took center stage at Euro 2016 Saturday.

There are record-equalling four sets of brothers among the 552 players at Euro 2016, but for the first time in the European Championship’s 56-year history, two of them played on opposing sides as Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka went toe-to-toe with brother Taulant.

It was Granit and Switzerland that emerged victorious with a 1-0 win as Vladimir Petkovic’s side joined France at the top of Group A with three points.

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While Granit dictated the rhythm of Swizterland’s performance, younger brother Taulant was substituted on the hour. He wasn’t happy about that decision, grabbing a water bottle before throwing it away in anger.

Switzerland had taken a fifth-minute lead through Fabian Schar’s header and when Lorik Cana was red carded just before the interval, Albania faced an uphill struggle to take anything away from the game.

“It was a very special moment for our family, if rather bizarre,” said Granit after the game. “We both gave everything for our countries, though I’m a bit happier.

“Both of us put in 100%. We gave absolutely everything – it was a football match and nothing more than that.”

’Cultural variety’

The children of Kosovo Albanian parents, the Xhaka brothers were both born in Switzerland, playing together for Swiss club Basel for two years as well as representing Switzerland at various age group levels.

Granit opted to continue playing for Switzerland, but Taulant chose to represent Albania.

“It’s OK, it’s liberty,” retired Swiss television journalist Alain Meury told CNN en route to Lens from Paris when asked about Taulant’s decision to play for Albania rather than Switzerland.

The brothers’ father Ragip had moved to Switzerland in the 1990s to escape the war in Kosovo.

“After the war in the 1990s in Yugoslavia and Kosovo we received many people from Albania and Kosovo – the majority of Swiss people accepted them,” added Meury.

“We need them for our economy. The cultural variety is important – for peace and to learn from others. It’s dangerous to stay alone.”

That cultural variety is certainly reflected in the Swiss team with Valon Behrami, Xherdan Shaqiri, Blerim Dzemaili and Admir Mehmedi – who along with Granit also started Saturday’s game – also of Albanian descent.

Conversely, 10 members of Albania’s squad were either born in Switzerland or grew up there, with seven of them having represented Switzerland at Under-21 level before choosing to play for Albania.

Swiss precision

Elder brother Granit had the better game of the two brothers.

He recently joined Arsenal from German club Borussia Mönchengladbach and you can understand why the English Premier League team paid a reported $47 million for the stylish midfielder.

Granit was the gateway to most of the Swiss team’s best moves and allied to his superb passing range this is player that has a granite like tackle.

The 15th edition of European soccer’s continental showpiece has been enlarged to include 24 teams and Albania seized the opportunity to join the Euro 2016 party in qualifying for their first major tournament.

But it was quickly given a brutal introduction into the demands of tournament football when Xherdan Shaqiri’s corner was headed in by Schar with Albania goalkeeper Etrit Berisha at fault.

“We conceded this crazy first goal which takes your breath away,” said Albania coach Gianni de Biasi.

“We felt the pressure from a mental perspective and for the opening 20 minutes we didn’t play as I expected my team to play,” added De Biasi, reflecting on Albania’s initial nervousness.

The Xhaka brothers made European Championship history Saturday.
DENIS CHARLET/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The Xhaka brothers made European Championship history Saturday.

Beware Switzerland at set pieces. It scored 10 goals from set pieces in qualifying – seven from corners and three from penalties – even if six of those goals were scored against San Marino.

The task for Gianni de Biasi’s team became even tougher when captain Cana was sent off after picking up two yellow cards before the first half was out.

From the resulting freekick – Cana’s second yellow card was for handball – Dzemaili’s fierce shot rattled the post.

But those waves of German attacks kept coming, Draxler narrowly heading over Benedikt Howedes’ cross.

At times he single handedly kept Albania in the game, notably thwarting Haris Seferovic on three occasions with some smart saves and twice denying Shaqiri.

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Albania had scored just seven times in qualifying – if you don’t’ include the 3-0 win they were awarded against Serbia – but on three occasions it did threaten the Swiss goal.

Before Cana’s red card, Armando Sadiku ran clear but he was unable to beat Yann Sommer.

Sadiku had another clear sight of goal in the second half but his shot hit the side netting.

In the closing stages, Albania substitute Shkelzen Gashi had the best chance to pull Albania level, but his shot was brilliantly turned over the bar by Sommer.

Magnificently backed by its vociferous supporters, Albania showed remarkable spirit given it played over half the game with 10 men, but in the end that team work ethic it wasn’t enough.

“We didn’t have a fortunate game with the key incidents,” said De Biasi.

Albania next play France on Wednesday June 16 in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome, while Switzerland face Romania in the Parc des Princes in Paris on the same day.

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Build your Ultimate XI. Choose from the best players in Europe and challenge your friends. - (Choose your team)