Xherdan Shaqiri: Switzerland are among "underdogs" at World Cup


Chicago Fire FC midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri is poised to join esteemed company when Switzerland compete at the 2022 World Cup later this month.

It’s a group that contains former New York Red Bulls forwards Thierry Henry (France) and Tim Cahill (Australia), as well as ex-Chicago and Houston Dynamo FC star DaMarcus Beasley (USA).

“This is my fourth World Cup, and it's always something special,” Shaqiri said in a virtual press conference Wednesday. “Not everyone can say that you've played in four World Cups. I know what I'm expecting, but of course it's in the winter; it's something new for me, too, and in Qatar, also something new.

“I'm looking forward to this biggest event in football, and to try also to help my nation and to try to achieve something.”

Shaqiri’s past World Cup stops came at South Africa 2010, Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018, totaling four goals and one assist across nine games. As one might expect, those international-level performances accompanied a storied European club career at the likes of Bayern Munich, Liverpool and more.

Now, at Qatar 2022, Switzerland are drawn into Group G and will open Nov. 24 against Cameroon, a squad that’s likely to feature two MLS defenders – Nouhou Tolo (Seattle Sounders FC) and Olivier Mbaizo (Philadelphia Union). Afterward, tests against tournament favorites Brazil (Nov. 28) and Serbia (Dec. 2) await.

The 31-year-old acknowledged the tough road ahead for Switzerland, who have reached the Round of 16 at back-to-back World Cups. They also made the Euro 2020 quarterfinals before losing to Spain on PKs.

“We have many teams who are favorites,” said Shaqiri, who’s been training with Chicago’s Swiss partner club, FC Lugano, to prepare for the World Cup. “For sure Brazil, but France also is always a big favorite. Germany is a tournament team, Spain also.

"But there are always underdogs who maybe surprise, so we will see which team this is going to be. I hope Switzerland is one of them.”

Shaqiri Switzerland
Xherdan Shaqiri controls the ball in a UEFA Nations League game for Switzerland. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

Shaqiri will be among the most experienced players in Qatar, carrying 26 goals and 30 assists across 108 games for his home country. He’s hoping to replicate one of the most impressive games of his career, too, netting a hat trick at the 2014 World Cup during a 3-0 group-stage victory over Honduras.

“We played in Amazonas, so it was very hot, very special game, and I scored a hat trick,” recalled Shaqiri, who joined last winter as Chicago’s club-record signing (reported $7.5 million fee to Lyon). “It was an amazing day which I will never forget. Especially when you score a hat trick in the biggest event in football for your nation, it's something special.

“I hope I can score again, at least one goal. That will be very good. But a hat trick, this ball from 2014 I have still at home. It's amazing memories that I never forget.”

Shaqiri and his teammates will arrive in the Middle East with plenty of experience; Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka, Torino fullback ​​Ricardo Rodriguez, Borussia Mönchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer and Galatasaray striker Haris Seferovic are other program mainstays.

That foundation could see Switzerland cause some surprises, with Shaqiri in line for key minutes.

“I hope Switzerland will be one of [the underdogs],” said Shaqiri, who had 7g/11a in 29 games during his first MLS season. “But in every tournament you have some teams who surprise sometimes and can go maybe until the semifinal. So let's see. Let's see.”