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Xhaka is top 10 as Swiss overwhelm Hungary

GRANIT Xhaka and Dominik Szoboszlai are the number 10s, captains and driving forces of Switzerland and Hungary, but it was Xhaka who took the plaudits with a superb all-round display in his team’s 3-1 Euro 2024 victory.

Kwadwo Duah, Michel Aebischer and Breel Embolo scored the goals in a dominant Swiss display, despite Hungary briefly rallying at 2-1 after a goal by Barnabas Varga.

With 126 caps and seven years at Arsenal under his belt, Xhaka is enjoying something of an Indian summer. He was key in Bayer Leverkusen’s surprise Bundesliga title triumph and led from the front as the assured-looking Swiss got their Group A campaign off to a perfect start.

Still only 31, he is vastly experienced and that priceless ability to find space and pick a pass left the Hungarian defence flailing again and again in Cologne.

When Hungary did finally get something of a foothold in the second half, Xhaka harried to pressure them on the ball, then nearly capped a dream day with a last-minute glancing header that was well saved.

Xhaka has been taking his UEFA coaching badges recently.

“I have the feeling that this course for the coaching licence allowed me to look at the game differently and be a step ahead of my opponents,” he said. “For me, it’s more important to help the team on the pitch by being positive.”

It was a different story for Szoboszlai. He missed the last Euros through injury as Hungary, given no chance of progress after being grouped with Germany, France and Portugal, went within six minutes of qualifying before Germany snatched an equaliser that eliminated them.

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Fully fit and firing after a move to Liverpool, he was the driving force behind Hungary’s remarkable unbeaten run over the last 18 months and the theory was that with him back in harness they would be ready to make a real challenge at Euro 2024.

He turned 23 last month and is the youngest captain in European Championship history but Saturday’s first half passed with him a totally peripheral figure, deep and wide on the left, his body language of shrugs and head shakes doing nothing to disguise his frustration.

Szoboszlai’s contribution was summed up by two free kicks in dangerous positions, both of which he floated too high and deep when his team were desperate for any sort of half-chance.

Szoboszlai finally came to life with a delicious curling cross for Varga’s goal and, like the rest of his team, he then looked a different player as the energy coursed through him with the Hungarian fans in full voice.

He was unable, though, to impose himself enough and the Swiss rode the challenge before capping the win with Embolo’s neat finish in stoppage time before Xhaka deservedly collected the man-of-the-match award.

By MITCH PHILLIPS

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