Switzerland golden boy Granit Xhaka caught up with FIFA.com as decisive moments to ‘Road To Russia’ come this Tuesday in Lisbon.
FIFA.com: How do Switzerland manage to keep winning?
Granit Xhaka: That’s a good question. I think at the moment it’s just a case of a lot of things coming together, both on and off the pitch. Our self-confidence increases with every win.
But the coach has also given us a lot of new impetus. In the past we showed that we could play football, but Vladimir Petkovic has worked with us on the psychological side of things in particular. I think that’s where we’ve made the most progress. He’s brought us closer together as a team. Everyone fights for everyone else. If someone has a bad day then the others are there for him. And if a player makes a mistake then the others can compensate for that. Those sorts of things are crucial at this level and it’s really important that we perform as a unit.
Will you play to win against Portugal? Or will you be more cautious?
The game with Portugal is almost like a World Cup Final for me. It’s a unique situation that only rarely arises in qualifying. If you win, you’re heroes. But if you don’t, then you’re losers. That might sound harsh but that’s the way it is. All the games we’ve won up until now are irrelevant, which makes us want the points we need even more.
We’re not going into the game looking to defend for 90 minutes, that’s just not our style. We want to play football and show we can be bold. But yes, Portugal have to make the running, only a win will do for them. That could play to our advantage. We’re in a comfortable position and can bide our time, and perhaps hit them on the break.
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Why do you think Switzerland will not lose to Portugal?
Because we have the necessary self-confidence. If we can play the way we did in the reverse fixture against them then I’m certain we can get a good result. We need to be prepared for anything. We could go 1-0 up or 1-0 down very quickly. That’s why we simply need to be completely ready psychologically and keep our cool even in tricky situations. We don’t need to land the knockout blow in the first few minutes. Portugal are a different calibre and we need to be ready for that.
What sort of game can we expect?
I think it’ll be a very different encounter to the one in Basel a year ago. Back then Portugal arrived as freshly-crowned European champions. Perhaps they underestimated us but I think they were definitely surprised by the way we played. We were bold and put them under pressure. Of course we had a bit of luck in the opening exchanges but after that we were much the better team.
After we beat them in the first game, they’ll know what to expect this time. I think Portugal will play differently this time. We respect them but we’ve got qualities of our own and can compete with them, no problem. We’re not going to get ten chances to score but we might get two or three and we need to make them count. We need to show our class. Portugal have scored more goals than us in this group so we need to do something about that.
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What difference can Cristiano Ronaldo make?
Portugal are a very different team with him than without him. He’s the player who can decide a game for them in a split second. He’s absolutely clinical in front of goal and it’s extremely difficult to stop him. If you give him a chance he’ll score. It doesn’t matter if it’s with his right foot, his left or with his head. He’s a complete player in my opinion and he’s really hard to stop.
Obviously Portugal are more than just Ronaldo. There are other talented players in the team but he’s the focal point. He’s the leader and has an unbelievable character.
Switzerland have never been in such a strong position. How big of a disappointment would it be to have to go through the play-offs?
People who know me know that I don’t talk about the play-offs. It’s not an issue for me at all. I’m confident we can take the step needed to win the group. I’m sure we can beat Portugal or definitely earn a point. But yes, we could end up with 27 points – more than Switzerland have ever had – and still need to go into the play-offs.
Portugal vs Switzerland will kick-off at 7:45 pm in Estádio da Luz, Lisbon