Tomorrow, Albania vs Switzerland finish up the first game of Group A in Euro 2016, and while football will certainly take center stage, there is another intriguing plotline to keep an eye on as the game kicks off. Granit Xhaka, Arsenal's new midfielder, will take the field for Switzerland against his brother Taulant, who plays for Albania.
You may be wondering how two brothers became seperated in such a fashion, especially as both of them have acknowledged that they share a very close relationship.
Both Taulant and Granit grew up in the Basel youth system together. Children of Kosovo-Albanian refugees who fled to Switzerland to escape the political situation and eventual bloody conflict that was Kosovo at the time, Granit and Taulant grew up in Basel, where they both pursued careers in football. Taulant, 18 months older, did not progress as fast as his brother, and he was therefore not pursued by Switzerland, allowing him to join up with his homeland of Albania.
Granit, on the other hand, caught the eye as he progressed through the ranks, and he was quickly swept up by Switzerland, joining other players of Kosovan heritage, including Xherdan Shaqiri and Valon Behrami. Granit had wanted to represent Albania, but he grew tired of Albania dragging their feet, and so he signed up with Switzerland. Taulant took the more patient route, not making his debut for Albania until they played Portugal in the Euro qualifiers.
Now, the two teams face off against each other, when in fact, most of the players would probably rather to play with each other. We know Granit wishes he had joined his brother in Albania, but he is not the only one. Besides the aforementioned Swiss internationals with Kosovan heritage, there are nine Albanian internationals who grew up or were born in Switzerland, per ESPN FC.
Complicating matters more is the fact that Kosovo was just admitted into FIFA after years of being blocked, mostly by Serbia, who refuse to recognize Kosovo as a state.
With that in mind, players from both Switzerland and Albania could be presented the opportunity to represent their true homeland for the first time. We can only speculate on who would make that switch, or if FIFA is even planning to allow them that luxury, but we can say that this overarching theme will make tomorrow's game very interesting indeed.
All the world's eyes will be on Granit and Taulant, but their personal battle is but a microcosm of the larger European landscape. Football can often be representative of larger trends in the world. It's why we connect with it and love it so. Tomorrow, Albania vs Switzerland will prove that better than words ever could.
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