Euro 2016: Albania v Switzerland - Expert v Expert


No team won fewer games than Albania in qualifying, as the Eagles registered just four wins, with one of them coming after the infamous 'drone-gate' incidents. Nevertheless, they arrive in France as an underestimated outfit and that can be dangerous.

The Swiss have had an eventful build up to the tournament injury wise with key players major doubts and most of the responsibility falling on the hefty shoulders of Stoke's Xherdan Shaqiri. .

Here, renowned football writer Nick Ames focusses on the Albanian's chances, while European football expert Ben Lyttleton takes up the Swiss mantle. 

 

TEAM NEWS

Nick Ames on Albania: Albania will line up in their usual 4-5-1 formation, which can quickly become a 4-3-3 when they spring out on the counter-attack. The primary question mark before the game has been over the midfield balance, with the experienced Burim Kukeli expected to get the nod as the holding player ahead of the more technical Ergys Kace. That means Taulant Xhaka, slightly ahead of him but playing more of a destructive role than a creative one, will probably face a head-to-head with his younger brother, Granit, the Switzerland midfielder.

Up front, Armando Sadiku should start ahead of Sokol Cikalleshi. Sadiku has scored three goals in as many pre-tournament friendlies and, with Albania traditionally short on goals, it makes sense to field a striker who is on a hot streak.

Ben Lyttleton on Switzerland: Injuries have been a running theme before and after the Switzerland squad was announced. Norwich defender Timm Klose misses out through injury, as does striker Josip Drmic. Fabian Schar injured himself in training a fortnight ago. Because of the shallow depth of the squad, especially at centre-back, he is an important player. Breel Embolo, while not a first team player, injured himself at the end of the season, but both are in training and should be fit for the opening match. Renato Steffen has been ruled out as well, which leaves the squad with only Xherdan Shaqiri and Admir Mehmedi as natural wide players, though Embolo can play wide too.

The other talking-point surrounds the striker position. Haris Seferovic only scored once for Frankfurt in the past six months, Eren Derdiyok scored six in the same period. If either draws a blank against Albania, Embolo may get his chance.

 

FORM

Ames: The euphoria of the 3-0 win in Armenia that swept Albania to the finals in October has given way to some concern after a mixed series of friendly results. Wins over Luxembourg (2-0) and Qatar (3-1) demonstrated that they have too much for less-established sides but defeats to Austria (2-1) and, most concerningly, Ukraine (3-1) gave the impression that they are susceptible in the face of quality. Perhaps that should not be a huge surprise; if the 3-0 win they were awarded after the abandoned match in Serbia is not counted, Albania won just three times in the qualifiers and two of those victories came against the Armenians.

Lyttleton: Mixed, to say the least. In March, Switzerland lost in Ireland and at home to Bosnia & Herzegovina, both times without scoring a goal. Last month at least they scored in the 2-1 friendly defeat to Belgium, but the overall play improved and the performance was better in last week’s 2-1 win over Moldova.

 

KEY MAN

Ames: Lorik Cana. Albania’s talismanic captain has been awaiting this moment for his entire career and his leadership in their first appearance at a major tournament will be crucial. The longer Cana, who will anchor the defence at centre-back, can keep his defence in order, the higher the chance of Albania coming away with a result that would give them genuine hope of a last-16 place.

Lyttleton: Xherdan Shaqiri. Switzerland's attacking play relies heavily on the 24-year old, as he is the main creator, and goalscorer, for the team. Without him, there's little creativity going forward as he's the only one capable of producing through-balls consistently. He is one of the few Swiss players capable of dribbling past a man.

 

SURE THING

Ames: Albania will look to keep things tight and the Swiss, wary of being caught on the counter, are unlikely to go hell-for-leather at first either. Scores level at half-time and Switzerland at full-time looks good at 4.50.

Lyttleton: Over 4.5 yellow cards at 1.98.

This will be a highly emotional affair and though Switzerland has more experience at this level, it could be feisty. The Xhaka brothers, Granit (Switzerland) and Taulant (Albania) will be on opposite sides and four other Swiss players - Shaqiri, Blerim Dzemaili, Valon Behrami, and Mehmedi – have Albanian backgrounds. It will be a testing one for the referee.

 

LONG SHOT

Ames: It would be some story if Taulant Xhaka, one of nine Albania squad members born or raised in Switzerland, got one over his brother – and it’s exactly the kind of story made for a European Championship. He could be good value for first goalscorer at 34.00.

Lyttleton: Shaqiri to score the first goal looks good at 7.00. When Switzerland played Albania in qualifying for Brazil 2014 (winning 2-0 and 2-1), Shaqiri opened the scoring on both occasions. He could do it again.

 

SCORE PREDICTION

Ames: Albania 0-2 Switzerland at 7.50.

Lyttleton: Albania 1-1 Switzerland at 7.00

 

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