A dinner and 'super' wine helped Switzerland become a contender at Euro 2024. England's up next.

Thu, Jul 4, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

A dinner and 'super' wine helped Switzerland become a contender at Euro 2024. England's up next.

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) - Switzerland is on the verge of making history at Euro 2024, but a few months ago it was a team under severe pressure.

A dinner and some "super" red wine in Duesseldorf - where Switzerland plays England on Saturday - helped captain Granit Xhaka and coach Murat Yakin turn things around.

The Swiss team eliminated defending champion Italy last week and is a step away from the semifinals, which would be its best-ever result at any tournament.

Just over four months ago, however, things were very different. Switzerland had won just one of its previous seven games, and that was against tiny Andorra. During that time, Xhaka had publicly criticized the team's training sessions - and by implication Yakin - and likened the team's performance to a kick-about "in the park."

In February, Yakin came to visit Xhaka for dinner in Duesseldorf, just up the road from where Xhaka was playing for the then-undefeated Bayer Leverkusen.

What exactly they talked about remains a secret - and so does the menu - but both men have said the dinner was an important moment in the bond between coach and captain. It may have helped that Xhaka scored his first goal for Leverkusen the next day.

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"We players are happy that we have a coach who is open to hearing the players' opinions and there have never been problems. We are men enough to talk about it," Xhaka said last month.

"Good food, super wine and I scored the next day ... I think we are both very ambitious. We both just want success for ourselves, for the team. And that is what counts. Everything else is history."

Switzerland is unbeaten in eight games since then and a win against England would surpass its two previous quarterfinal appearances at major tournaments, at Euro 2020 and all the way back at the 1954 World Cup on home soil.

Yakin's contract expires at the end of the tournament and he has so far chosen not to extend it.

In a team with relatively few star names, Xhaka brings experience at the top level with Arsenal in the English Premier League and elevated an underdog team to trophy-winners as Leverkusen won the German league and cup double. He's played for some of the top coaches in Europe - Arsene Wenger, Mikel Arteta, now Xabi Alonso - and is working toward his own coaching qualifications.

All of that makes Xhaka a valuable asset off the field as well as on it - especially if he's on the same wavelength as his coach. If Switzerland is to become a surprise title challenger at Euro 2024, it will need a win over England in the city where Xhaka and Yakin bonded over dinner.

"We talked a lot and we weren't only drinking water. I think he scored his first goal the next day. He invited me again and said: 'Muri, come back, because it can keep going in this rhythm,'" Yakin told Swiss TV in March.

"Then he wanted to know which red wine we'd been drinking that evening. I think that shows that we have a good relationship and that it's not something we're putting on."


AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

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