Oh brothers! Xhaka siblings pepare to face off
Tense occasion for the Xhaka family as siblings Granit and Taulant face off
ALBANIA v SWITZERLAND
(Tonight, 9pm, Singtel TV Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220)
European Championship history is set to be made tonight, when Granit Xhaka plays for Switzerland against his brother Taulant Xhaka in Albania's colours.
The close siblings have been dreading facing off since the draw for Euro 2016 was made.
"It's a crappy feeling. That was the last thing we wanted," said Arsenal's new signing Granit, 23, who is 18 months younger than the brother he will face at Lens' Stade Bollaert-Delelis in their opening Group A match.
Granit has even joked the brothers have a pact to "leg it off the pitch after two minutes".
Taulant, 25, has a reputation as a midfield hardman and plies his trade with FC Basel. But he said he will not "put him through the mill" when asked about facing his high-profile brother.
"Envy has never been a question with us."
It promises to be a tense occasion for the Xhaka family who will be in a quandary over who to support.
Three other pairs of brothers will play at Euro 2016 (see above, right), but the Xhaka siblings are set to become the first brothers to play against each other at the European Championship tournament proper.
"Anyone in a similar situation, who says it's not a special game, is a liar," said Granit.
"For the 90 minutes, we'll blend out the fact we're brothers as professionals. May the best man win."
Granit's rise to English Premier League stardom has been fast: Two years with Basel, then four at Borussia Moenchengladbach before he signed for the Gunners in a deal worth 45 million euros ($69m).
In contrast, Taulant has spent his entire career at Basel, apart from a loan spell at Swiss league side Grasshopper.
Granit made his debut for Switzerland as an 18-year-old at Wembley in a 2-2 draw against England in 2011.
Taulant first appeared for Albania two years ago in a 1-0 win over Portugal, who did not have superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
The brothers could only have dreamed of facing each other in international football when they played as boys for local club FC Concordia in Basel.
Their parents Ragip and Eli fled Kosovo, in 1990 just before war ravished their homeland and they found a new home in the working-class neighbourhood of Basel's St Johann.
Ragip found work as a gardener, Eli as a cleaner.
Both their sons were soon chasing footballs on the local playing fields.
Although Taulant is older, it was Granit who was entrusted with the house key when they went off to play, because he was deemed more reliable by their mother.
The brothers soon developed different playing styles.
Granit is a creator, using technique and skill to unlock defences, but was known for being a loud mouth off the pitch.
Taulant prefered to draw less attention to his work, but gets stuck into the midfield dirty work.
"I'm not one to play to the gallery, not one for the spectacular," he said. "I get the dirty work done."
So, who will their parents support tonight?
"That's very easy: one hand claps for Switzerland, the other for Albania," said Granit, diplomatically.
As their father Ragip put it, they would have been very unhappy if both teams hadn't made it.
He said: "One son for Switzerland and one for Albania - it's the perfect reflection of our family."
- Wire Services.
OTHER BROTHERS AT EURO 2016
BY THE NUMBERS: 9
Nine members of Albania's 23-man squad had the right to play for Switzerland, while six members of the Swiss squad could have opted for Albania.
Switzerland accepted tens of thousands of Kosovar Albanians who fled the Balkan wars in the 1990s following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.