Euro 2016

Swiss hang on as 10-man Albania squander chances

Fabian Schar heading in the only goal in Switzerland's 1-0 win over Albania, after goalkeeper Etrit Berisha totally misjudges the flight of Xherdan Shaqiri's corner.
Fabian Schar heading in the only goal in Switzerland's 1-0 win over Albania, after goalkeeper Etrit Berisha totally misjudges the flight of Xherdan Shaqiri's corner.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

GROUP A

Albania 0

Switzerland 1

LENS • Albania waited 70 years to play in a major football 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 Schar to head into an empty net for what proved the winner yesterday.

This was a Euro 2016 Group 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.

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. They got their winner in the fifth minute, when Ricardo Rodriguez, 23, 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 calamitous 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 Schar netted for a sixth international goal on his 21st appearance.

Later Schar's luck was the diametric opposite, seeing the yellow card raised for a fair challenge but at least Taulant's free kick was hit straight at Yann Sommer.

The closest Albania came to an equaliser was via Taulant and, though his shot was spooned over, his brother was the closest defender, yet still a metre away.

Carballo had a busy time dishing out six yellow cards and a red in the first half alone.

He showed a first yellow to Cana in the 13th minute for sliding in on Haris Seferovic. The former Marseille player was again in trouble in the 36th minute.

Chasing Seferovic, Cana fell and headed the ball away on the edge of the penalty area and, when it bounced, flicked it away with his hands.

His protests had no effect. Carballo produced a second yellow and a red and off the 32-year-old went, meaning he misses Wednesday's game against France in Marseille.

Given the man advantage Switzerland could curse themselves at still having only the slimmest advantage as the hour passed.

Seferovic had earlier warmed Berisha's fingers and should have scored again when racing in on the goalkeeper, 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.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 12, 2016, with the headline 'Swiss hang on as 10-man Albania squander chances'. Print Edition | Subscribe