The Xhaka brothers braced to lock horns – for Albania and Switzerland | Nick Ames

Granit and Taulant have taken different paths after their parents migrated to Switzerland but when they come face to face in Lens at Euro 2016 on Saturday they will be united by pride if not by shirt colour

It was approaching half-time in Albania’s decisive Euro 2016 qualifer against Armenia and the Eagles, needing a win to confirm their debut at a major tournament, were comfortably ahead. The online clamour among the worldwide Albanian diaspora was deafening but one intervention on Instagram stood out from the rest: “2-0 Albania” were the words appended to a photograph showing a man in his early 20s, fist clenched and more than a suggestion of tears in his eyes. Granit Xhaka was the subject and just over an hour later Albania, with his brother Taulant anchoring the midfield, would confirm a 3-0 win and their place in France.

Nothing about the post would seem unusual were it not for the fact that Granit was watching from Estonia where, the following day, he would help Switzerland round off their own campaign. A day shy of eight months later, the pair face a scenario neither could have seriously expected when cheering one another on in the qualifiers. Albania and Switzerland face one another in Lens on Saturday and, while that is not unusual in itself, the prospect of two brothers facing one another on separate sides – in the midfield engine room, no less – is unprecedented at a European Championship. (The Boatengs, Germany’s Jérôme and Ghana’s Kevin-Prince, have twice faced each other in World Cups, though they are only half-brothers.)

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