Argentina vs Switzerland World Cup 2014: Liverpool transfer target Xherdan Shaqiri has the skills to shake up Lionel Messi and Co
Switzerland powered through to the knock-out phase but face a sterner test against Argentina
Thursday 26 June 2014
Switzerland’s reward for finishing second in Group E is a second-round tie with Argentina and Lionel Messi next Tuesday in Sao Paulo. They are not favourites but will at least have Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland’s own Messi-equivalent, in electric form.
Shaqiri scored a hat-trick against Honduras on Wednesday as Switzerland clambered past the central Americans to qualify for the knock-out stages. It was a brilliant display from the little Bayern Munich forward, who did not play as much as he wanted under Pep Guardiola last season and could now find himself at Liverpool next season.
Brendan Rodgers is very keen on the stocky, punchy and skillful 22-year-old who can play anywhere across the front line. And, of course, he could find himself getting plenty of game time, especially in the first two months of the season. There is also interest from Milan and Roma but at Anfield he could show what he was in his three years at Basel: one of Europe’s most exciting young players.
That was made clear enough in the heat of Manaus on Wednesday. Shaqiri’s first goal was a rocket of a shot into the top corner from 25 yards out, when under pressure from two Honduras defenders. The second came as he charged through the middle on the counter-attack. The third after a long unchecked run into the box.
Shaqiri’s second and third goals were both set up by Josip Drmic, the 21-year-old striker who has just left Nurnberg for Bayer Leverkusen. Drmic is another of the brilliant young generation of Swiss players, many of whose parents migrated to Switzerland from the former Yugoslavia.
Shaqiri was born in Gnjilane, in what is now Kosovo. Kosovo have only just started playing Fifa-sanctioned matches, and Shaqiri – like Swiss team-mate Granit Xhaka, whose parents are also Kosovan – began playing for Swiss age-group teams.
Video: Switzerland prepare to meet Argentina
Although Shaqiri was not part of the Swiss squad that won the Under-17 World Cup in 2009 – unlike Xhaka, Haris Seferovic and Ricardo Rodriguez – he is seen as the leader of this new generation of Swiss footballers. Shaqiri went to the 2010 World Cup as an 18-year-old, making one substitute appearance, since when he has grown into a star of the side.
England fans might remember Shaqiri from the brilliant goal he scored, weeks before his 19th birthday, in the Euro 2012 qualifier in Basel which England won 3-1. He has been a regular since, while going from strength to strength in club football. In his three seasons as Basel, he won three Swiss league-winners’ medals and two cup-winners’ medals.
Shaqiri left for Bayern for €11m (£9m) in the summer of 2012. His first season, under Jupp Heynckes, was a success and he played an active part as Bayern won the Treble. But last year, under Guardiola, Shaqiri played less, which is why he is considering a move.
Not that this has affected his fame in Switzerland, where he is reckoned to be the second most famous sportsman, behind only Roger Federer.
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