A captain wearing the # 10 jersey has iconic status in international football. Granit Xhaka may not match everyone’s idea of a classic example, but the importance of the Arsenal midfielder to Switzerland is appreciated at home. Xhaka lets the Swiss team tick and is valued by national coach Vladimir Petkovic as well as by his club manager Mikel Arteta.
If Switzerland is to break their streak of knockout rounds at this year’s European Championship, 28-year-old Xhaka will likely play a big role as he approaches 100 games for the Nati. A clear example of Xhaka’s steady influence was qualifying in September 2019, at home against an improving Denmark, now ranked 10th in the world. Switzerland led 3-0 when Xhaka, who scored the second goal with a laser shot, was substituted in the 79th minute. Without him, the team fell deeper, lost composure and ended the game in a 3-3 draw.
Later that month, Xhaka was named Arsenal captain by then coach Unai Emery. The honor only lasted a few weeks, however, when Xhaka was caught berating fans who mocked him after being substituted off during a home game. Xhaka seemed to be leaving Arsenal safely until Arteta replaced Emery shortly afterwards. “He’s a natural leader,” Arteta said of Xhaka this season. “He’s someone who’s always 1,000% committed, not just to himself but to helping all of his teammates all the time.”
A player whose family roots are in Kosovo and Albania and whose father was a political prisoner in the former Yugoslavia is mentally tough. These family ties became clear when Xhaka and former Basel team-mate Xherdan Shaqiri, also Kosovar Albanians, defeated Serbia 2-1 in a highly controversial match at the 2018 World Cup. Both celebrated their goals with hand gestures celebrating Albania, which sparked an old debate in Swiss football that cast doubt on the patriotism of players with dual nationalities.
False public statements cost the Swiss Football Association’s general secretary his job weeks after the World Cup, and Xhaka’s rise to captaincy has been questioned by former players. Under Xhaka’s leadership, Switzerland reached the finals of the 2019 UEFA Nations League, led their qualifying group for Euro 2020 and won their first two qualifying games for the 2022 World Cup. Nevertheless, the Swiss face a difficult task to advance from Group A first on the opening Saturday against Wales in Baku, then she returns to her base near Rome to play against Italy.
The likely decisive third game will again take place in Baku, where Turkey is likely to be treated like the home team due to their ties with Azerbaijan. The core of a good Swiss team is still there. Xhaka, Shaqiri, defenders Fabian Schär and Ricardo Rodriguez and striker Haris Seferović are all 28 or 29. Only Schär has less than 70 international appearances. Remo Freuler is also 29 years old, but a late developer in the midfield of Atalanta. A strong midfield player includes Denis Zakaria, one of Borussia Mönchengladbach’s group in the Swiss squad, who has long been associated with Manchester City. Xhaka, Rodríguez and Seferović grew up together in the 2009 U17 World Cup. It might be time for them to take a deep run at a senior tournament.
Euro 2020: Factfile Switzerland
Previous euro performance: Four participations, best performance of the last 16 in 2016
FIFA Ranking: 13
Nickname: The Nati
Trainer: Vladimir Petkovic
Star player: Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka, Yann Sommer
Major clubs: Young Boys, Basel, Servette Geneva
How did you qualify?: Group D won
EM 2020 schedule:
vs Wales – June 12th 6:30 p.m. IST
vs Italy – June 17th at 12:30 p.m. IST
vs Switzerland – June 20, 9:30 p.m. IST
goalkeeper: Yvon Mvogo (PSV Eindhoven / NED), Jonas Omlin (Montpellier / FRA), Yann Sommer (Borussia Mönchengladbach / GER)
defender: Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund / GER), Loris Benito (Bordeaux / FRA), Eray Coemert (Basel), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Mönchengladbach / GER), Jordan Lotomba (Nice / FRA), Kevin Mbabu (Wolfsburg / GER), Becir Omeragic (FC Zurich), Ricardo Rodriguez (Torino / ITA), Fabian Schaer (Newcastle / ENG), Silvan Widmer (Basel)
midfield player: Christian Fassnacht (Young Boys Berne), Edimilson Fernandes (Mainz 05 / GER), Remo Freuler (Atalanta / ITA), Mario Gavranovic (Dinamo Zagreb / CRO), Admir Mehmedi (Wolfsburg / GER), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal / ENG) , Denis Zakaria (Borussia Moenchengladbach / GER), Djibril Sow (Eintracht Frankfurt / GER), Ruben Vargas (Augsburg / GER)
Forward: Breel Embolo (Borussia Mönchengladbach / GER), Xherdan Shaqiri (Liverpool / ENG), Haris Seferovic (Benfica / POR), Steven Zuber (Eintracht Frankfurt / GER)
(With AFP inputs)
Read all the latest news, breaking news and coronavirus news here