Albania waited 70 years to play in a major tournament and then lost their first match in one inside the opening five minutes.
The culprit was Etrit Berisha, the Albania goalkeeper who will not again wish to see how he flew at a Xherdan Shaqiri corner and missed it to allow Fabian Schär to head into an empty net for what proved the winner.
This was a contest billed as “special” by Shaqiri due to links between the nations that gave it a strong feel of kinship, the sense crystallised by Switzerland (and Arsenal’s) Granit Xhaka facing his elder sibling Taulant, who lined up in Albania’s midfield.
While this was the first time brothers faced each other in the European Championship finals’ 56-year history, 10 of Gianni De Biasi’s squad were born or grew up in Switzerland, many Albanians having sought refuge in the country due to the troubles affecting the Balkans.
All of this was reflected in a huge United We Stand banner displayed before kick-off and the way the opposing players greeted each other like long lost brothers.
However by the end an honest contest featuring a strong seam of niggle had been witnessed in which Albania had their chances to at least share the spoils. De Biasi was particularly infuriated to see substitute Shkelzen Gashi spurn a golden chance when clear through as the final whistle neared.
From kick-off the Swiss had been a blur of white, winning an opening corner from the left, following an attack along the right. Ricardo Rodriguez took this and though it yielded nothing the next time the left-back was involved Switzerland’s opener followed.
This time the 23-year-old was given the ball in open play. He made a mug of Elseid Hysaj along the left before a corner from the opposite side was eventually won.
Now came the calamity defending that would find an unfortunate repeat later in the half when Lorik Cana was sent off by the referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo.
Shaqiri stepped up to the right quadrant and pinged over the ball, Berisha did what he should not have done, and Schär netted for a sixth international goal on a 21st appearance.
Before this Granit Xhaka indicated his blend of ball-playing, tough tackling football will be present when trotting out for Arsenal next season. The way he cleaned out Amri Abrashi with no concern for the midfielder’s limbs made him fortunate not to be booked by Carballo.
Later Schär’s luck was the diametric opposite, seeing the yellow card raised for a fair challenge but at least Taulant Xhaka’s free-kick was hit straight at Yann Sommer.
Switzerland were the dominating force before the break but they were fragile when the Eagles came at them. The closest Albania came to an equaliser was via Taulant Xhaka and though his shot was spooned over his brother was the closest defender, yet still a yard away.
This was about as good as it got for the Albanians in front of goal during the first half as proceedings became pretty dire near theirs. First Haris Seferovic, the lone outrider in Vladimir Petkovic’s 4-2-3-1 broke free and saw his shot beaten away by Berisha. Then came Cana’s dismissal. The captain, a former Sunderland defender, had been booked earlier for going through the back of Blerim Dzemaili. Now, he allowed Seferovic to gain ground on the wrong side and as the ball rolled towards them Cana slipped and felt forced to commit a blatant handball. Out came Carballo’s yellow card again and off the 32-year-old went, meaning he misses Wednesday’s game against France in Marseille. Further pain was nearly caused when Dzemaili banged the free-kick off the left post, the Swiss inches away from doubling their lead.
Given the man advantage Switzerland could curse themselves at still having only the slimmest advantage as the hour passed. Taulant Xhaka was one Albanian moved to his own industrial language when Di Biasi replaced him on 62 minutes, the No14 showing further disgruntlement by hurling a water bottle at the dugout.
Seferovic had earlier warmed Berisha’s fingers and should have scored again when racing in on the keeper who was keeping his side in this second Group A match.
By the close there had been seven yellow cards and an occasion that will be remembered by the two nations.
England play Wales here on Thursday at a venue which holds 35,000 – Euro 2016’s second smallest – but if their fans can match the noise made by those here today it should make for some atmosphere.
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