Amid his preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Swiss Men’s National Team midfielder and Chicago Fire Designated Player Xherdan Shaqiri met with media on Wednesday morning to discuss his approach to the upcoming tournament.
Stationed in Switzerland where he’s currently training with Fire affiliate side FC Lugano, Shaqiri covered a number of topics that included takeaways from his move to MLS, his favorite World Cup memories from the past, and his mindset ahead of group play beginning in just three weeks time.
“It was important to make the move (to Chicago), and I'm very happy in America,” he began. “I played the whole season there, so it was a long season for me, too. I haven't had any holidays, too. So it was for me good also to relax a bit after the season of the MLS. Now, I’m since one week training with FC Lugano, and I'm training well, I'm training good, and I'm trying to be as fit as possible to go to the World Cup to try to help my nation and to make good performances to achieve our goals.”
Following his acquisition by the Fire from French club Lyon in early February, there’s no doubt that the trip to Qatar this winter was circled on Shaqiri’s calendar. However, during his first season in the league, Shaqiri kept his focus on his new Club.
“During the season, I don't think too much about the World Cup because I'm really focusing on my team, Chicago Fire,” he said. “It was really very far from when it begins, so I really was focusing on my performances and giving everything for the team.”
Occupying a Designated Player slot on the team’s roster and becoming the most expensive transfer signing in Club history, Shaqiri appeared 29 times while netting seven goals and assisting on eight. The Fire finished the season outside of the MLS Cup Playoff window, something Shaqiri hopes to change when he returns from the World Cup ahead of the team’s 2023 preseason camp in January.
“I arrived with a lot of ambition, and I wanted to go to the playoffs,” he added. “We didn't achieve our goal of what we wanted or what I wanted. We need to get better and to try to achieve our goals for sure next season. We have to make sure everything is right with what we have to do, and I'm sure we're going to do it next year.”
Switzerland have been drawn into the tournament’s Group G, where they’ll look to advance past FIFA’s No. 1 ranked team Brazil, UEFA counterparts Serbia (ranked 21), and five-time Africa Cup of Nations winners Cameroon.
Switzerland are of course no slouch themselves, having qualified for this year’s competition on the strength of an undefeated eight-match qualifying campaign in Europe that saw them best four-time World Cup champions Italy as well as Northern Island, Bulgaria, and Lithuania en route to the top finish in Group C of UEFA qualifying. FIFA currently have the Swiss men at 15th in their rankings, one spot ahead of the United States.
“We know how difficult it is,” Shaqiri said. “There are so many good teams. If you qualify for a World Cup, then you must be good. Every team is good there, and every game is difficult to play. Like our group, it's very difficult, so we need really good performances to win games and to try to go to the next round.”
This year’s World Cup will be Shaqiri’s fourth time participating in the competition, having appeared in 2010 in South Africa, 2014 in Brazil, and 2018 in Russia. The stout midfielder joined an exclusive club in the 2014 iteration of the tournament, famously scoring a group stage hat trick against Honduras to help put Switzerland into the Round of 16. Only seven players have scored three times in a single World Cup match across the four tournaments held so far this century.
“For sure one of the best moments in my career,” he said. “I think I'm the only player with a left foot who scored a hat trick in a World Cup. I’m not sure, but I heard about this. This is also something very special.”
“When you score a hat trick in the biggest event in football for your nation, it's something special,” he added. “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, and yeah, it's amazing memories that I never forget.”
The 31-year-old’s consistent excellence in his national team shirt has seen him become one of his country’s top performers of all-time on the scoresheet. Shaqiri already boasts the third-most appearances in a Swiss shirt ever - with his 108 matches played just 10 shy of former midfielder Heinz Hermann’s 118 - while his 26 goals scored are the nation’s sixth-most in its history.
Most recently, Shaqiri appeared six times for the Swiss during their undefeated qualifying campaign, racking up a goal and five assists. As such, he remains a key player for his country and stands to be a focal point of their attack in Qatar.
“This is my fourth World Cup, and it's always something special,” He said. “Not everyone can say that you've played in four World Cups. I know what I'm expecting. 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, to try to help my nation and to try to achieve something.”
Shaqiri counted Brazil, France, Germany, and Spain among the team’s he thinks have the strongest cast to hoist the famous gold trophy, however…
“There are always underdogs who surprise, so we will see which team this is going to be,” he said. But I hope Switzerland is one of them.”
“This is for sure our goal and dream.”
Switzerland’s World Cup begins on Nov. 24, when they’ll take on Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions in the group stage at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah.