Switzerland's 'Messi of the Alps'
Updated: 2014-07-01 07:40
By Agence France-Presse in Porto Seguro, Brazil (China Daily)
Xherdan Shaqiri, dubbed 'The Messi of the Alps' thanks to his World Cup hat-trick, hopes to conquer new peaks when Switzerland faces Argentina in Tuesday's last 16 clash.
Shaqiri lived up to his flattering nickname by accounting for all of his team's goals in a 3-0 romp over Honduras in its final group match to set up the clash in Sao Paulo against Lionel Messi and Argentina.
"It's a dream for us; little Switzerland is facing a big challenge," said the 22-year-old. "We have achieved something big as little Switzerland, and I am proud of my three goals. Anything is possible now in the last 16."
Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri takes part in a training session on Sunday at Municipal Stadium in Porto Seguro, Brazil. Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP
Switzerland has never beaten Argentina in six previous tries and is bidding to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in 60 years.
"He has already showed what he is capable off; Xherdan wrote a page of history against Honduras," said Ottmar Hitzfeld, Switzerland's German coach. "If we put in a similar performance we also have a chance against Argentina."
In their most recent meeting the Swiss were tied with Argentina in a Bern friendly in February 2012 until Messi tallied two late goals to claim his first international hat-trick in a 3-1 victory.
Shaqiri's Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola has said Argentina must be on its guard against the pint-sized winger whose usual nickname 'XS' is at odds with his muscular physique.
"They must pay close attention to Xherdan Shaqiri," Guardiola said at a World Cup event in Buenos Aires. "He's dangerous in the penalty area because he's quick and shoots very well.
"At Bayern, he's often only a replacement, but when he comes on he always does well. It's a gift to have a player like him on the squad, and in his own country he's a god."
Having played second fiddle to left wing Franck Ribery at Bayern, Shaqiri is reveling in his role in the middle as an attacking midfielder with Switzerland.
The ex-FC Basel star first announced himself on the international stage with a superb goal against England in a 3-1 loss in a Euro 2012 qualifier.
Against Honduras, Shaqiri became the first Swiss player to score multiple goals in a World Cup match since 1954. Two of his goals were assisted by Swiss striker Josep Drmic, and the future Bayer Leverkusen player is hoping for more of the same against Argentina.
"As a striker you always want to score, but I'm happy to be able to provide as well," said Drmic. "We've proven we work well as a duo, so let's hope that continues."
(China Daily 07/01/2014 page23)