Albania versus Switzerland is sure to be a big occasion in Xhaka family as brothers Taulant and Granit face off in one of Euro 2016’s more unlikely rivalries.
The Group A game will be played on January 11 and should be worth watching as the bros collide.
The duo were born in Basle, Switzerland, but their parents are of Kosovo-Albanian descent which gave them the choice to play for either. Both represented Switzerland at Under 17, U18, U19, U20 and U21 level, but now have different allegiances.
The most recognisable is younger brother Granit, 23, after his £35million move to English Premier League giants Arsenal.
He will surely be a starter for Switzerland, having had 41 caps – scoring six times – and fresh from a solid Bundesliga campaign with Borussia Monchengladbach helping them finish in the last Champions League spot.
His older sibling is utility defender Taulant, 25, who represents Albania, but has only 10 caps to his name. Starting against Switzerland is not certain after him being rotated many times in qualification. However, his recent 90 minutes in their away win against Portugal shows his class and value. As does his almost 100 games for FC Basle where he was included in the Swiss League Team of the Year at right back in 2014. Another league triumph came for Basle this season.
It’s not the first time brothers have played against each other, but it is more unlikely at international level.
It has happened in the past with several players: notably Scottish siblings John and Archie Goodall. They were raised in Kilmarnock to Scottish parentsm but bizarrely never represented Scotland. Back then you could only play for your birth nation; John was born in England and Archie a year later in Northern Ireland (places their soldier father was stationed).
Massimiliano Vieiri (Australia) against Christian Vieri (Italy) as well as Paul Pogba (France) against brothers Florentin and Mathias (Guinea) are other famous squad siblings. Alas, no brothers were on opposite sides at a major tournament until the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa as Kevin-Prince Boateng of Ghana met brother Jerome Boateng of Germany. Not weird enough? They played again four years later in Brazil 2014.
As for Albania and Switzerland, these two countries have a number of players who had the choice to play for either team or others, such is the political situation in Albania.
An economic crisis after the fall of communism in 1989 caused mass migration from the region and Switzerland become one of many new homes. A prime example is ex-Bayern Munich and Stoke winger Xherdan Shaqiri; born to Kosovo-Albanian parents, with Albanian nationality, but moved to Switzerland when just one year old. He could have played for Switzerland, Albania or Kosovo and is also eligible for a Serbian passport (as they don’t recognise Kosovo). No less than five of Switzerland’s players could have played for Albania including ex-Fulham man Pajtim Kasami, born in Macedonia to Albanian parents.
Could you imagine walking out to 40,000 people on the opposite side of your brother? Unreal. So, here’s hoping both players get a start or at least meet on the pitch on Saturday 11th of June, 1500 GMT in Lens.