Inside the Brain of a Teenage Soccer Genius

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Switzerland-Albania: A Demonstration of Passion

Switzerland are the victors in an intense match against Albania

Switzerland took on Albania in the Swiss city of Luzern this evening in front of a crowd that was split about 50/50 between Swiss fans and supporters of the away side. Unlike the normal scenario of the away fans making the trek from whatever country was visiting for the fixture, a majority of the Albanian supporters were residents of Switzerland who had chosen to support their bloodlines rather than their home country.
After the Balkan war in the late 20th century, immigrants from Albania and the region of Kosovo flocked to Switzerland and Germany, creating a cultural divide that Americans (especially along the West Coast) can most closely relate to as the cultural division and integration of the Mexican immigrants with the American residents. Despite relocating and getting immersed in a culture that is very different from their own, the Albanians have maintained a strong cultural identity and national pride.
Shaqiri, Xhaka and Behrami
The Swiss national side had three starting players on the pitch who were duel citizens of both Albania and Switzerland. Xherdan Shaqiri of FC Bayern Munchen, Valon Behrami of Napoli and Granit Xhaka of Borussia Monchengladbach surely experienced an emotional roller coaster throughout the ninety minutes of the game tonight. Speaking before the match, Xhaka said that of he scored like he did in Switzerland's first qualification game against Slovenia, he wouldn't celebrate. Shaqiri was the first to hit the net for Switzerland in the 23rd minute and was ironically assisted by Xhaka. Despite the lovely play and composed finish from Shaqiri, a goal which would normally be celebrated enthusiastically by any player when scored on the international stage, was celebrated humbly by the two youngsters, a clenched fist and the joyous antics of their teammates being the only sign of it being an important goal.
On the pitch, tackles were flying but it was as if the two sides were playing against fellow countrymen. Even a risky tackle from Albania's substitute striker in the second half on Swiss keeper Benaglio was met with cool nerves and handshakes rather than the butting of heads and spitting of harsh words. The sportsmanship between the two sides was a beautiful demonstration of the ways that football can unite cultures and nations despite any social or political controversy that may exist between the two off the pitch.
The stands were a different story. The Albanian fans attempted to throw their countrymen in the Swiss jerseys with taunts and even solid objects being hurled at the pitch. Speaking rather prophetically in a pre-match interview Xhaka predicted that the Albanian fans would try to provoke them, and that they did. The Swiss spectators countered with cheers of their heroes names in an attempt to outshout the boos and whistles from the Albanian contingent at the end of the pitch and in red and black groups throughout the stands.
Without the fascinating social and political history of the two countries and cultures in mind, the match was still a quality game of football. Both sides fought hard, creating good chances and forcing some exceptional saves from the men between the posts. The passion of the crowd and the men on the pitch was reflected in the pace and intensity of the game. Switzerland had the lead at halftime, but Benaglio had saved them on a few occasions in the first forty-five. Albania were less fortunate in terms of their finishing, but they were certainly not giving up easily after conceding just a single goal. Veteran defender and team captain Lorik Cana was strong in both the attack and the defense for the visiting side.
The second half was much the same story. Albania created some great chances, especially after subbing on the young players Cani and Roshi in the 55th minute. Benaglio was called to action on more than one occasion. Ujkani did well at the other end to deny the Swiss from another goal early on. He was unable to stop Inler's penalty kick after Valentin Stocker was brought down in the box but he denied Switzerland a third multiple times, his best effort was when he came off his line to deny Xhaka an easy tap in.
In the end the Swiss were able to finish better than the Albanians but the game was evenly matched. The pace was brilliant and overall it was a picture-perfect match illustrating hard work and passion we see from the twenty two men on the football pitch when they don the jerseys of their country.

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