LENS: Switzerland grabbed the quickest goal of the fledgling European Championship finals to beat Albania – who suffered the first red card – by 1-0 as the ‘other teams’ from Group A followed up on the opening victory of hosts France.
Despite playing more than half the match with 10 men the Albanians will rue the chances they wasted to take a point from their debut in a major tournament finals. Hence Granit Xhaka. who lined up for the Swiss with brother Taulant playing for the rank outsiders, was the one with reason to smile in relief at the final whistle.
Switzerland had stepped out with the confidence of a team who had reached the second round of the World Cup two years ago against the 250-1 outsiders from Albania.
The chasm in status appeared justified as the Eagles lived up – or down- to their minnows rating in only the fifth minute. Poor marking at a right-wing corner by Xherdan Shaqiri was compounded by poor judment from keeper Etrit Berisha. Swiss defender Fabian Schar made a late dart into the heat of the goal area to twist in the air and head home.
Haris Seferovic finished poorly when given the opportunity to run at the Albanian defence and it was a measure of the pressure being exerted by the Swiss attack at this stage that Albanian captain Loric Cana conceded his team’s first yellow card for a foul on Blerim Dzemaili.
The incident appeared to persuaded Albania that they could not afford to sit deep and they thus embarked on their most energetic phase of the first half, with Armando Sadiku being foiled by keeper Yann Sommer when clear through.
Unfortunately for them, the spell was broken when Cana was shown a second yellow card and inevitable red by Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo for pulling the ball out of the path of Seferovic with his arm on the edge of the penalty box.
Albania might have paid an even heavier penalty but Dzemaili’s free kick rocketed back out off Berisha’s left-hand post. Seferovic and Dzemaili then both went close before the interval and Albania were grateful to survive to the break without suffering further damage.
Berisha, at fault for the goal, more than redeemed himself in the second half wth fine saves from the persistently Seferovic twice and Shaqiri and the Swiss profligacy could – and should – have proved costly.
First Sadiku, once again, succumbed to the pressure of the momnt and pumped an angled shot wide into the side net then, in the 87th minute, newly-arrived subsitute Shketzen Gashi scorned the clearest opening of all.
The Swiss back four stood flat and flat-footed as Gashi galloped on to a ball chipped over their heads. He had time to take a couple of strides, look up, aim and fire . . . only to see Sommer, standing up brave and tall, reached up both hands to deflect the shot wide of goal.
Sommer-time blues for Albania, indeed.