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'Alpine Messi' faces the man himself
by Paul Kennedy, July 1st, 2014 2AM

TAGS:  germany, switzerland, world cup 2014


[WORLD CUP: Spotlight] Lionel Messi, who has four goals in three games at the World Cup, could meet his match on Tuesday when Argentina goes up against Switzerland and the player known as the "Alpine Messi," Kosovo-born Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored a hat trick against Honduras and whose moves are uncannily similar to those of the man himself.

STORYLINE. “We are the clear outsiders but we have nothing to lose and much to gain,” said Switzerland's German coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld, who will retire after the World Cup. “We can make history. In one game, anything is possible.”

The Swiss have not reached the quarterfinals at the World Cup since they hosted the tournament 60 years ago.

Ezequiel Lavezzi will join Gonzalo Higuain and Messi in the Argentina attack following the injury to Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero, who was injured in the 3-2 win over Nigeria and might miss the rest of the World Cup.

PLAYER TO WATCH. The 22-year-old Shaqiri, who plays for Bayern Munich, is one of eight players on Switzerland's World Cup team who hail from the former Yugoslavia and like fellow stars Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami were born to Albanian parents in Kosovo

Immigration from Yugoslavia began in the 1970s and 1980s as Swiss businesses sought out temporary workers, but it and picked up speed during the Bosnian War and Kosovo War with a influx of refugees. Anti-immigration sentiments, fueled by far right parties, have grown in Switzerland as in other Western European countries. But Shaqiri is proud of his roots, wearing the flags of Switzerland, Albania and Kosovo on the cleats and identifying himself as "Kosovar Albanian."

Swiss fans know him as the "Kraft wuerfel," or Power cube, but the "Alpine Messi" will do. He is short like Messi -- 5-foot-6 -- and has a wicked left foot. If you didn't see Shaqiri's red uniform with the No. 23 on it, you'd have thought it was Messi himself as he scored one of the goals of the World Cup against Honduras, starting out on the right corner of the penalty area, moving to his left and hitting a curving blast inside the far corner of the Honduran goal.

The move is nothing new to Swiss fans, who have marveled at his cut-back move to his left since his days as a teenager at FC Basel (see below 10 of his best goals).

1 comment
  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: July 1, 2014 at 8:42 a.m.
    Switzerland was the only team to beat Spain in World Cup 2010 with suffocating defense. They are very capable of killing any game with their tactics and Messi might have a big problem facing them without the help of his teammates. I don't think they will go for attacking soccer as they did in the group stage. Look for a bring game. But if there is a player who can break them, it is Messi.

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