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Image description, Granit Xhaka spent seven years at Arsenal before joining Bayer Leverkusen in 2023

This season couldn’t have gone much better for Granit Xhaka and now he has the perfect opportunity to lead his country to success at Euro 2024.

The midfielder has left his mark on the tournament, being named man of the match in Switzerland’s opening win over Hungary and the decisive 1-1 draw with Germany.

Although Xhaka is Switzerland’s all-time record player, his international career has been a mixed bag, with more lows than highs.

  • Author, Emma Sanders
  • Role, BBC sports journalist in Germany

The round of 16 match against Italy is scheduled for Saturday (kick-off 17:00 CEST). Expectations are high in Switzerland and people hope that Xhaka will lead his team to victory as captain and exploit the potential that he has only shown to a limited extent so far.

“Success gives confidence. It was an important challenge that I had to accept this season (at Bayer Leverkusen),” said Xhaka at the start of the tournament.

“It’s a pleasure for me to work there every day as a footballer. It wasn’t a perfect season because we lost the Europa League final. But now we’re facing a new challenge.”

“Last chance to be successful with Switzerland”

video subtitles, Highlights: Germany saves late draw against Switzerland and wins Group A

Xhaka’s impressive season at Leverkusen, where he played a crucial role in Xabi Alonso’s title-winning midfield, caused a stir in his home country.

Local journalists called it the “best season of his career” and expressed optimism that he could transfer his club form to the international stage.

Swiss journalist Laurent Ducret, who writes for Keystone-SDA, told BBC Sport that it was Xhaka’s “last chance to be successful with Switzerland at the 2024 European Championship”.

“He did very well in the pre-European Championship warm-up matches, but he did not show his best level in Switzerland, as he has always played better for his club,” added Ducret.

This view is shared by many supporters.

When asked if Xhaka had performed well for Switzerland so far, Aural, a fan from Geneva who was in Frankfurt during the group stage, said: “Absolutely not, no chance. Not yet.”

But journalists and fans still have hopes for Xhaka. Aural claims they would “erect a statue” to him if he leads Switzerland to the final in Germany.

So far, he has certainly shown his performance, dominating the midfield and showing his leadership qualities as Switzerland exited their group with ease.

“I thought Xhaka was really good all night,” Leicester defender Conor Coady told BBC Two after Switzerland’s draw with Germany.

“He managed the midfield excellently. After the season so far, he goes into the tournament with great confidence.”

“Having him in front of the back five, the way he directs people, gets around the field and into the box… I thought he was just brilliant.”

Aside from his disappointing performance against Scotland, Xhaka was one of the tournament’s standout players.

He will be put to the test again in the next game against Italy. While Xhaka is pleased with the recognition of his individual form, he is also delighted with the progress his team has made.

“I’m not a big fan of numbers or individual trophies (like the man of the match award), let’s put it that way,” said Xhaka.

“Of course it makes me happy, I won’t lie, but what makes me even happier is the team, how they support each other and the level at which we play.

“Six months ago, we were nowhere near where we are today. Our training intensity is much higher than before. The quality is much better.”

“Nobody knows who will be in the starting lineup before the morning of the game. That makes us stronger. I’m happy to be part of this team.”

“He came here with confidence”

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Image description, Only Granit Xhaka (left) has played more games for Switzerland than Xherdan Shaqiri (right)

Xhaka’s career has been marked by criticism and controversy, including his time at Arsenal, where his temperament was questioned and he was stripped of his captain’s armband after being booed by home fans during a draw with Crystal Palace.

A similar trend can be seen in his country, with consistent exits in the round of 16 of major tournaments – including a penalty shootout loss to Poland in 2016, when Xhaka was the only player to miss his penalty.

In 2018, speculation arose that Xhaka might switch his allegiance and play for Kosovo, and the decision to give him the captain’s armband for Switzerland was questioned by former players, including former Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz.

But in recent years, Xhaka has turned things around: he has shown consistent performances for Switzerland and proved to be a mainstay in midfield.

He has the support of his teammates and there is a growing belief that he is finally playing his best football for Switzerland.

Now that he is coming off the best season of his career in Germany, could Xhaka be the one to lead Switzerland to triumph?

“I hope so, yes. He had a very good season with Leverkusen and I am happy that he has finally won a title in Germany,” striker Xherdan Shaqiri told BBC Sport.

“He came here with more confidence – he already has a lot of confidence – but he came with even more. I’m happy for him.”

“He pushes the players and I hope he can take that forward. The national team may now put more pressure on him and he will have to deal with that.”

“But I am very happy that he won this title with Leverkusen and hope that he can continue like this.”

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