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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Cologne Stadium

Xhaka's mastery of proceedings in Cologne spells big danger for the Scots

Hungary v Switzerland at Cologne Stadium Picture by Yann Tear

By Yann Tear at Cologne Stadium, Germany

It is only just over a year ago that Grant Xhaka's quirky and maddeningly inconsistent Arsenal career reached its seemingly inevitable conclusion with 'that' incident at Anfield which proved to the beginning of the end of a title challenge.

To recap, the Gunners had carved out a 2-0 lead and were flying. Their momentum was looking sound and the club was entertaining very real prospects of ending the Man City dominance which continues to blight the realistic ambitions of all and sundry.

Then, as is is wont, he picked a needless fight in an unimportant part of the field, rousing a hitherto slumbering and becalmed Liverpool support. The rest as they say, is history.

That rush of blood was always in armoury of the Swiss international of Albanian stock. That fiery nature was always a major asset. And a major drawback.

Arsenal fans had filed him under 'unreliable ' and seriously fell out with him over the manner of one frustrated exchange with fans at the Emirates when he was substituted. For most players, that would have been the end of it.

But Xhaka is no ordinary player. And no matter how impossible it was to imagine winning the league with such a powder keg waiting to blow, he could be imperious.

In Cologne for Switzerland in his country's opening group match, he was exactly that. Orchestrating everything with a sublime array of passes and calm linking play. Yes calm. You heard that right.

Hungary's struggling Magyars seemed powerless to deal with this polished A lister. With Manuel Akanji near him, the image was of overriding serenity, for the most part.

It sums up what has been the midfielder's best ever season. He has been an integral part of Bayer Leverkusen's incredible unbeaten domestic season when a club synonymous with just missing out in Germany claimed a first ever title in a double triumph. He was also very nearly a Europa League winner too - only Atalanta thwarting that bid in the final.

The Swiss sailed into a 2-0 half time lead against the Hungarians. Underpinned by Xhaka's influence, for sure.

He laid all the key foundations. London born Kwandwo Duah opened the scoring and Xhaka set him up for what was nearly a second for the striker at the start of the second half.

As it was Michel Aebischer drilled in a second before the break to establish a handy two-goal cushion.

The bad news for a Scotland side needing to bounce back quickly from Friday night's 5-1 hammering in Munich against hosts Germany is that he stands in their way in this very same Rhein Energie Stadion on Wednesday night. He will feel right at home now.

On today's evidence, the Scots should fancy their chances against a Hungary side only briefly lifted by the presence of Liverpool's Dominic Szoboszlai.

But they may still need to get something off the Swiss to get out of a tournament group for the first time - even with the benefit of knowing third place might be enough to do the trick in this expanded competition of 24 nations.

Xhaka nearly crowned a superb contribution with a late goal when his flicked header at the near post almost converted a corner.

Yet arguably of greater significance was the control he reasserted on proceedings after a brief team wobble when Hungary pulled a goal back with a stooping header from Barnabas Varga.

Xhaka steadied the ship and the Swiss scored again to seal the deal through sub Breel Embolo.

Scotland's task looks far from easy.


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