Lens, France: For the first time in European Championship history, two brothers played for opposing sides when Switzerland beat Albania 1-0 on Saturday in their opening Group A match.
Granit Xhaka helped the Swiss to victory over an Albania side that included his older brother Taulant, in their first international encounter on different teams.
“It was a very special moment for our family having two sons playing on opposite sides,” said Granit, who was recently signed by Arsenal after captaining Borussia Monchengladbach to fourth place in the Bundesliga last season. “It was rather bizarre.
“I think we played very well, very professional, we gave everything for our country, both of us. We’re both very happy, me a bit more because we won.”
The Xhaka brothers were born in Basel, Switzerland to a Kosovar-Albanian family. They both played for Swiss national youth teams before Taulant decided to represent Albania at senior level. Granit opted to stay with Switzerland.
After the national anthems were played on Saturday, the two added a brotherly hug to the usual handshakes between the two teams.
Both midfielders, they first clashed over the ball just shortly after kickoff, with Granit winning the duel.
And they went on to make their presences felt on the pitch.
The 23-year-old Granit had a shot blocked in the fourth minute, just seconds before a corner that led to the winning goal, and he later stopped Taulant’s attacking moves in the 13th and again in 19th.
Taulant blasted a shot wide in the first half, while Granit emulated him in the second.
For Taulant, it was over in the 62nd minute when he was substituted.
“I’m happy we were both able to play well,” Granit said. “There was a lot of pressure on our shoulders but for me and for my brother it was great that we put in 100 percent, we really pushed our limits. We fought against one another.”
Albania captain Lorik Cana, who was sent off in the first half, said there had once been a possibility of both brothers playing for Albania.
“I was really behind bringing both of the Xhaka brothers in a few years ago, but that didn’t happen because of a passport procedure,” Cana said. “We’d like to have Granit as well. But it wasn’t all in our own hands.”
Taulant made his debut for Albania in 2014 and has played 12 international games since. The 25-year-old recovered in time from a leg injury last month to play on Saturday.
Granit has played 44 times for Switzerland since 2011, scoring six goals.
They were not the only link at the match in the northern town of Lens.
Both squads have players who were eligible to represent either country, following the migration of Albanian families with roots in Kosovo to Switzerland since the 1980s to escape the Balkan wars.