By Amber Marsh (Albania) & Matt Cowdock (Switzerland)
Albania (Amber Marsh)
How I will watch it
I’m told Albania are the worst team in the tournament soon after pulling them out of the hat. So even though I feel bonded with the Balkan country for life – through sweepstake – I don’t have much hope of them winning it. I will be at a wedding so will inevitably miss the game. But this isn’t really an acceptable excuse as a close family friend is often sneaking headphones into church to listen to Everton match commentary most Sundays from the pew.
Players to watch
In the white corner of Switzerland is Xhaka and in the red corner of Albania is Xhaka. For the first time in European Championship history two brothers will be playing against each other for opposing teams.
The siblings, Granit (Switzerland) and Taulant (Albania), were born in Basel to Kosovar-Albanian parents, came through the ranks at FC Basel 1893 and both represented Switzerland at youth level.
Basel defender Taulant, who at 25 is the elder of the pair by two years, switched from Switzerland to Albania in 2013 and after a number of injuries eventually played for Albania in September 2014. Arsenal’s new signing, Granit, a midfielder, was 18 when he played for Switzerland for the first time.
This seems like one of the most confusing games for Euro 2016 – the Albanians and Swiss seem to have just stuck all their players in a pot and picked at random who gets to play for each country. There seem to be around nine Swiss playing for Albania whilst five Albanians play for Switzerland. Why they can’t keep to their own countries I do not know.
Predicted Score: Albania 2 – 3 Switzerland
Even though I don’t know much about football – I think these two are equally useless and I think Granit will get one over on his brother this time round.
Switzerland (Matt Cowdock)
How I will watch it
So here we are. What started as a qualifying campaign has now come full circle two years later as the Euro 2016 finals get underway. Having been drawn Switzerland in two separate sweepstakes now, I’ll be paying closer attention to them than I had originally planned, but I’m still quietly confident that they possess the requisite talent to cause an upset and win me some lovely cash. They start, of course, against Albania on Saturday.
While an England game may present a more social occasion, the likelihood is that for this game I’ll be going solo: some snacks to the left of me, perhaps a refreshing beverage to the right. And in all honesty, those inanimate objects probably provide more extensive analysis than the likes of Danny Murphy so it should be okay.
Players to watch
As an Arsenal fan, my eyes will naturally be diverted to Switzerland’s deep-lying midfielder Granit Xhaka, who lines up against his brother Taulant. Granit, the younger of the two, is a supreme ball-player and should be a calming influence in the centre of the field, while his distribution is bound to be a key factor given the attacking talent which the Swiss are blessed with further forward.
Speaking of which, Xherdan Shaqiri is another who caught the eye with Stoke City last season, and it’ll be the stocky winger who provides much of the tricky and incisive running from wide. In addition, the now-clichéd ‘wand of a left foot’ most certainly applies to Shaqiri, who has exhibited that quality throughout his career, including the 2014 World Cup.
My Arsenal bias will once again play a key role in the attention I’ll pay to left-back Ricardo Rodríguez. The Wolfsburg man is one of the most sought-after full-backs in Europe and it could well be that another strong tournament will see him seal a move to one of the world’s true elites. A boon in attack and excellent in one-on-ones, it’s easy to see why Rodríguez is so well regarded. Fingers crossed Arsène Wenger agrees because Nacho Monreal isn’t getting any younger.
Predicted Score: Albania 2 – 0 Switzerland
Having money on a team to win always instills a peculiar optimism, however misplaced it may be. But on this occasion, I expect them to get the better of Albania in their opening game, so I’ll go for a comfortable 2-0.