Early goal gives Switzerland 1-0 win over 10-man Albania
LENS, France (AP) An early goal by defender Fabian Schaer earned Switzerland a 1-0 win over 10-man Albania in the second Group A match of the European Championship on Saturday.
Despite dominating most of the game, Switzerland failed to increase its lead after Albania captain Lorik Cana was sent off in the 37th minute following a second yellow card at Stade Bollaert-Delelis.
Goalkeeper Yann Sommer had to come to Switzerland's rescue in the closing minutes, with his fine save preventing an equalizer from the unmarked Shkelzen Gashi - his former teammate from Switzerland's Under-21 team.
''I was not afraid of losing our lead, but we should have scored more,'' Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said. ''We will be mentally stronger after coming through this.''
Schaer scored the only goal when he jumped to meet a corner by Xherdan Shaqiri and headed home in the fifth minute. Albania goalkeeper Etrit Berisha had left his goal to intercept the ball but was just too late.
It was Schaer's sixth goal in 21 matches for Switzerland.
He headed both goals in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Norway in September 2013 - but the 24-year-old Schaer isn't used to being in the spotlight. He wasn't part of the Swiss squad that won the Under-17 World Cup seven years ago, and even started studying for a career in banking.
Switzerland had the best of Saturday's early exchanges and regained the initiative after Albania lost Cana. The captain handled the ball to deny Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic a goalscoring opportunity, 14 minutes after being punished by referee Carlos Velasco Carballo for a late tackle on Blerim Dzemaili.
Switzerland made Albania pay for a shaky start in its first match at a major tournament.
''The first 20 minutes were very important and very good,'' Petkovic said. ''After that, we played too much backward and allowed them back into the game.''
Albania settled after 20 minutes but lost control again after the red card. Searching for the equalizer, Albania inevitably opened up its defensive line.
''The key moments of the game were the goal from Fabian Schaer, the dismissal of Lorik Cana and our three misses from close range that could have changed the game,'' Albania coach Giovanni De Biasi said. He added that the red card ''really changed the balance of the game. We had to change our approach.''
The Swiss missed a series of scoring chances, with Berisha denying Seferovic on four occasions and Dzemaili hitting the post from a free kick.
Seferovic missed Switzerland's best chance early in the second half, coming in from the left, but Berisha was well-positioned at the near post.
The Frankfurt striker was again denied by the Albania keeper in the 66th after meeting a brilliant pass by substitute Breel Embolo, the 19-year-old talent from Swiss champion Basel who had come on for Admir Mehmedi a few minutes earlier.
Appearing in its fourth European Championship, Switzerland earned only its second win after also beating Portugal 2-0 in 2008 though it had already been eliminated by that stage.
With Albania's Taulant Xhaka, who recovered in time from a leg injury, and Switzerland's Granit Xhaka both appearing in the lineups, it became the first match in a European Championship with two brothers playing for opposing teams.
''We should have scored more, but hopefully we have saved our goals for the next match,'' Granit Xhaka said.
Euro 2016 host France opened Group A by defeating Romania 2-1 on Friday. Switzerland next plays Romania in Paris on Wednesday, while Albania takes on France in Marseille later that night.