Granit Xhaka and his Switzerland team-mates have been knocked out of this summer’s European Championships, following a nerve-racking defeat on penalties against a well-drilled Poland side in the first knockout fixture of the tournament.
Granit himself was assured in possession as usual and was effective as a defensive screen protecting a vulnerable backline which saw former Gunner Johan Djourou in all sorts of trouble on plenty of occasions in his own half across normal time.
It seemed to be a game of squandered chances after Arkadiusz Milik fluffed his lines from close-range and despite some slick passing exchanges from the Poland side, it took a moment of magic from Borussia Dortmund winger Jakub Blaszczykowski to break the deadlock on the stroke of the half-time interval.
That seemed to wake up the Swiss in essence as, after the break, they played with much more urgency to snatch an equaliser. Lukasz Fabianski, who spent seven years at Arsenal, was kept busy with a number of half-chances as Vladimir Petković’s side continued to probe and press in the Poland half.
Ricardo Rodriguez saw his free-kick parried over the crossbar despite seeming destined for the top corner, and the woodwork was struck too. All of this before a brilliant overhead kick from Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri in the latter stages saw the scores levelled and extra time was needed to separate the sides.
Xhaka himself left his more attack-minded team-mates to get forward at will as he remained deep as a solid midfield anchor who could be relied on to pass forward when required. Making two tackles, interceptions and clearances each, he finished the full 120 minutes with the highest amount of passes and touches of any other player on the pitch.
Not making a spectacular contribution, but an effective one where he covered blades of grass at will, players looked increasingly tired as extra time wore on. Eren Derdiyok, on as a substitute, missed two golden opportunities from close-range as the end-to-end affair continued.
It was then time for the gripping finale of penalties, with an inspired figure in Lukasz Fabianski eager to help his side progress into the quarter-finals. Xhaka was the only player to miss his spot-kick, drilling the ball wide of the far post – meaning Poland had the advantage, and their momentum saw them through the tense shootout with Grzegorz Krychowiak slamming home emphatically.