Ten-man Albania were denied a historic point on their European Championship debut as Switzerland ran out winners in a hotly contested game in Lens.
Fabian Schar’s header proved crucial after goalkeeper Etrit Berisha flapped at Xherdan Shaqiri’s corner.
Despite Swiss control of play, Armando Sadiku wasted a great chance to make it 1-1 before Albania captain Lorik Cana received a second yellow for handball.
After poor Swiss finishing, Shkelzen Gashi almost levelled late on.
The substitute was put clean through with three minutes left but Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer made a crucial save, his second after denying Sadiku in the first half, to leave Albanian fans aghast.
Switzerland’s first opening-game win in four attempts at a European Championship puts them second in Group A behind hosts France, who beat Romania 2-1 on Friday.
But it should put them close to reaching the knockout stages for the first time after finishing bottom of their group at tournaments in 1996, 2004 and 2008.
Granit on top as Xhaka brothers make history
Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka and elder sibling Taulant became the first brothers to play on opposing sides at the European Championship, highlighting the homogeneous nature of this fixture, played before a passionate crowd.
Six of Switzerland’s 23-man squad have family links to Albania or Kosovo, while 10 of the Albanian squad were born or raised in Switzerland.
The Xhaka brothers were both born in Switzerland, after their parents fled Kosovo, and came through the youth system at Basel. But Taulant failed to make it to the senior Swiss side after playing for the Under-21s, and switched allegiance to Albania.
Granit, who recently joined Arsenal for a reported £35m from Borussia Monchengladbach, showed “promise” in this win, according to BBC pundit Danny Murphy.
The midfielder set up three decent chances and had the most touches of anyone on the pitch, with Murphy adding: “His passing looks very nice and he has a determination to get back and retrieve the ball so there is a nice balance to his game.”
Taulant also created one good opening after a smart one-two with Odise Roshi but shot over and he was replaced after 63 minutes, much to his distaste as he threw a water bottle at the dugout.
Swiss show greater experience
Despite the Albanian supporters’ barracking of Shaqiri, who is one of the Swiss players born in Kosovo, Vladimir Petkovic’s side were quick to show their greater experience, and had already made inroads down the flanks before the opener.
Albania responded well, but when Sadiku’s close-range effort was saved by Sommer, it proved costly – as former Sunderland player Cana was then sent off six minutes later.
Cana could have had little complaint with BBC pundit Thierry Henry suggesting he was lucky not to receive a straight red card.
After allowing Haris Seferovic to run the wrong side of him, Cana slipped on the edge of the penalty area and then used his hand to deny the Swiss striker.
The fact that Switzerland did not capitalise on their numerical advantage was mostly down to Seferovic, who wasted several good opportunities.
And he was fortunate that Sommer was in good form to deny Gashi late on, with the Albanian manager Giovanni de Biaso furious at another missed one-on-one chance.
The stats you need to know
- Switzerland have won six of their seven meetings with Albania, drawing the other.
- Xherdan Shaqiri has had a hand in nine goals in his past eight competitive appearances for Switzerland (five goals, four assists).
- The last four teams making their Euro finals debut have all lost their first match (Latvia 2004, Poland and Austria 2008 and Albania 2016).
- Albania are also the fourth team to be shown a red card on their Euros debut (England 1968, Netherlands 1976 and Bulgaria 1996).
- Albania’s Etrit Berisha made six saves in this game, more than he did in any of the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Match ends, Albania 0, Switzerland 1.
Second Half ends, Albania 0, Switzerland 1.
Foul by Ricardo Rodríguez (Switzerland).
Ergys Kace (Albania) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Mergim Mavraj (Albania) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Breel Embolo (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Mergim Mavraj (Albania).
Foul by Gelson Fernandes (Switzerland).
Ergys Kace (Albania) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Burim Kukeli (Albania) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Breel Embolo (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Burim Kukeli (Albania).
Substitution, Switzerland. Gelson Fernandes replaces Xherdan Shaqiri.
Corner, Albania. Conceded by Yann Sommer.
Attempt saved. Shkelzen Gashi (Albania) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Amir Abrashi with a through ball.
Attempt blocked. Ergys Kace (Albania) header from the centre of the box is blocked.
Granit Xhaka (Switzerland) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Shkelzen Gashi (Albania).
Corner, Switzerland. Conceded by Mergim Mavraj.
Attempt blocked. Fabian Frei (Switzerland) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Offside, Albania. Ansi Agolli tries a through ball, but Shkelzen Gashi is caught offside.
Foul by Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland).
Amir Abrashi (Albania) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Albania. Shkelzen Gashi replaces Armando Sadiku.
Attempt saved. Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland) left footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Fabian Schär.
Foul by Fabian Frei (Switzerland).
Amir Abrashi (Albania) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Fabian Frei (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Ermir Lenjani (Albania).
Attempt missed. Armando Sadiku (Albania) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Elseid Hysaj with a through ball.
Substitution, Switzerland. Fabian Frei replaces Blerim Dzemaili.
Attempt missed. Breel Embolo (Switzerland) right footed shot from the left side of the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Haris Seferovic.
Substitution, Albania. Sokol Cikalleshi replaces Odise Roshi.
Foul by Haris Seferovic (Switzerland).
Mergim Mavraj (Albania) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Albania. Conceded by Fabian Schär.
Valon Behrami (Switzerland) is shown the yellow card.
Attempt saved. Haris Seferovic (Switzerland) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Breel Embolo with a through ball.
Attempt saved. Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal.
Ergys Kace (Albania) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.