The best players don't need long to make an impact.
So it proved with Xherdan Shaqiri. The winger only played 26 minutes against Peru, but that was enough time to demonstrate his outstanding talent and win the match for Switzerland.
First, his swept pass found left-back Ricardo Rodriguez, whose cross was met by Stephan Lichtsteiner to break the deadlock. Then, minutes later, Shaqiri added a goal of his own. After latching on to a raking through ball from holding midfielder Gokhan Inler, Shaqiri poked the ball beyond the goalkeeper with a rare jab of his weaker right foot.
In Brazil, Shaqiri is bound to be given more time to make an impact. He is arguably the most naturally gifted attacking player in the Swiss squad. He will be charged with destroying the notion that Ottmar Hitzfeld’s team are organised, workmanlike, but ultimately blunt going forward.
The fact he was left out against Peru tells its own story. Every other likely starter at the World Cup was picked to play, but Shaqiri wasn’t risked from the outset. He’s simply too important.
For Hitzfeld, he’s irreplaceable.
Being on the bench will have been a frustratingly familiar sensation for Shaqiri. Since moving to Bayern Munich, he has struggled to impose himself on the first XI. He’s got a good excuse, though—Shaqiri’s preferred position is on the right-wing, where he is able to cut inside on to his stronger left foot.
That role is currently occupied by a certain Arjen Robben. Displacing the Dutchman is no easy task.
In 2013/14, Shaqiri was limited to just 10 Bundesliga starts, with seven substitute appearances. He didn’t start a single Champions League game. Nevertheless, he remained productive. That series of cameos brought him seven goals and a clutch of assists. When given a chance, he invariably shines.
Shaqiri is now 22, and arriving at the point where his glittering potential must be realised. The World Cup offers him a tremendous platform on which to exhibit his talents. Unlike with Bayern, he is a genuine star for the Swiss. A group containing Ecuador, Honduras and neighbours France should afford Shaqiri an opportunity to take centre-stage.
He’ll need to if Switzerland are to progress. Although they have a superb defensive record, they can struggle to break teams down. Against Peru, they did not look like scoring until Shaqiri’s timely introduction shifted the game’s momentum in their favour.
On June 15, Switzerland will begin their World Cup campaign with a match against another South American side in Ecuador. On that occasion, Shaqiri will surely play from the start.
Swiss World Cup hopes rest largely at his talented feet.
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