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Multicultural Switzerland hoping not to come unstuck at Euro 2020

Xherdan Shaqiri is added to the latest Panini album. Will the mercurial midfielder, once dubbed the "Alpine Messi', help Switzerland to Euro 2020 glory? © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

When Euro 2020 finally kicks off in Rome on Friday, Switzerland’s footballers will be focusing on their opening match the following day. Fans, politicians and officials will be hoping they can keep politics off the pitch this time.

This content was published on June 9, 2021 - 09:00

Delayed a year by the Covid-19 pandemic, the four-week tournament will be held in 11 citiesExternal link across the continent separated by four time zones and up to 4,700 kilometres. No matches will be held in Switzerland, which co-hosted Euro 2008 with neighbours Austria. 

The one-off hosting plan looks to be the best result fans could hope for with coronavirus continuing to limit international travel. Nine of the 11 hosts – all except Azerbaijan and Romania – qualified for the 24-team tournament, giving tens of thousands of fans the chance to see at least two home games.

UEFA, European football’s Swiss-based governing body, hired Daniel Koch, Switzerland’s top public health official overseeing the pandemic response last year, as an advisor on Euro 2020 crowd issues.

Koch saw the risk in having 24 sets of fans moving around a single country. “I think it was a wrong estimation to think it would be much easier if [Euro 2020] was only in one place,” he told the AP news agency.

Having 11 hosts (Dublin dropped out in April) gave UEFA flexibility and multiple governments focused on health and security issues. “The risk that [a local epidemic] goes wild is much less,” he said.

Back to Baku

However, Swiss fans who want to see their team play in the flesh have drawn a fairly short straw. The first of three group matches (against Wales on Saturday) will be played in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, some 3,400 kilometres from Switzerland. Fans (and players) will then have to travel from Baku to Rome for a match against Italy on June 16. They will then have to return to Baku to face Turkey on June 20.

How many die-hard fans will be prepared to clock up some 13,000 kilometres remains to be seen.

Switzerland and Euro 2020

SwitzerlandExternal link’s three group matches are against Wales (June 12 in Baku, 3pm Swiss time), Italy (June 16 in Rome, 9pm) and Turkey (June 20 in Baku, 6pm).

Swiss squad:
Goalkeepers: Yann Sommer (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Yvon Mvogo (PSV Eindhoven), Jonas Omlin (Montpellier)

Defenders: Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund), Loris Benito (Bordeaux), Eray Cömert (Basel), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Jordan Lotomba (Nice), Kevin Mbabu (Wolfsburg), Becir Omeragic (FC Zurich), Ricardo Rodríguez (Torino), Fabian Schär (Newcastle), Silvan Widmer (Basel)

Midfielders: Christian Fassnacht (Young Boys Bern), Edimilson Fernandes (Mainz), Remo Freuler (Atalanta), Admir Mehmedi (Wolfsburg), Xherdan Shaqiri (Liverpool), Djibril Sow (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ruben Vargas (Augsburg), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Denis Zakaria (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Steven Zuber (Eintracht Frankfurt)

Forwards: Breel Embolo (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Mario Gavranović (Dinamo Zagreb), Haris Seferović (Benfica)

End of insertion

Travelclub, the national team’s official travel partner, offered charter flights to the three group matches with 150 seats per flight. Although all three flights have now sold out, the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reported on May 26 that interest in the second match in Azerbaijan had been limited, pointing out that only people with a negative Covid test could enter the country.

It said the moderate demand was also down to Baku being perceived as an unattractive destination and reports that Swiss who test positive for coronavirus would have to go into quarantine.

Swiss fan numbers will presumably be higher in Rome, which is relatively easy to reach by train or car. However, ticket holders will be allowed into the Stadio Olimpico only if they bring a certificate issued by the Italian health authorities attesting to recovery from Covid-19 or a first coronavirus vaccination which is at least 15 days old. Alternatively, they may present a rapid antigen test or PCR test that is no more than 48 hours old. The documents may also be in English.

Double eagles have landed?

When it comes to on-pitch action, 28-year-old Granit Xhaka is Switzerland’s captain and their most experienced player, with 93 caps. Also known for seeing the red mist – and red cardsExternal link – Xhaka has family roots in Kosovo and Albania and his father was a political prisoner in the former Yugoslavia.

Those family ties were clear when Xhaka, whose brother plays for Albania, and Xherdan Shaqiri, also Kosovar-Albanian, scored to beat Serbia in a highly charged game at the 2018 World Cup. Both celebrated their goals with the Albanian “double eagle” hand gesture that ignited an old debate in Swiss football doubting the patriotism of dual-nationality players.

No one came out of that episode well. Three Swiss players were fined, and the football federation’s general secretary resigned after suggesting that the country’s football programme should be closed to dual nationals.

Xhaka’s elevation to the captaincy was also questioned by former players, but he fought back, enjoyed a successful Euro qualification and hopes to lead the multicultural team deep into the tournament.

Of the 26-man squad, two-thirds have an immigration background, although most, like Xhaka, were born in Switzerland. Also notable is that only four of the squad play for Swiss clubs (see box).

Winning chances

So how hopeful should Swiss fans be?

“I don’t like setting targets,” said national coach Vladimir Petkovic in the Tages-Anzeiger, before setting the target of making it out of the group stage (reaching the last 16). In the tournament’s 60-year history Switzerland have managed this only once: in 2016, when they made it to the last 16 but lost to Poland on penalties.

Bookmakers think the Swiss – currently ranked 13th in FIFA’s world rankings – should be able to do this, but it’s going to be tight. As for lifting the trophy in London on July 11, Switzerland are currently at around 70-1 – far behind favourites France, Belgium and England, all hovering at around 5-1.

For his part, Xhaka has repeatedly said the side have the realistic potential to reach the semi-final of a major tournament such as the Euros or the World Cup.

“Put it this way,” Petkovic told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. “Optimistically I agree with Granit Xhaka, but realistically maybe not.”

What are your predictions for Euro 2020? Let us know.

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