Fabian Schaer euro 2016 switzerland.jpg
Fabian Schaer (R) of Switzerland scores the 1-0 lead during UEFA EURO 2016 group A preliminary round match between Albania and Switzerland at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens Agglomeration, France, 11 June 2016.

An early header from Fabian Schaer after a mistake by the Albania goalkeeper gave Switzerland a nervous 1-0 win over their 10-man opponents in their Euro 2016 Group A opener on Saturday.

Defender Schaer powerfully headed in a Xherdan Shaqiri corner on just five minutes after keeper Etrit Berisha came but got nowhere near the ball.

Albania, who are making their first appearance in a major championship, had their hopes further dashed when captain Lorik Cana was dismissed after 36 minutes following a handball.

They could easily have grabbed an equalizer late on and Albania coach Gianni De Biasi was left proud but frustrated.

"Today we didn’t have a fortunate game when it came to the key incidents," the Italian told a press conference, although he described the sending off as "fair".

He added: "I said we needed to make a good start, that wasn’t necessarily the case. We really felt the mental pressure. In the first 20 minutes the side didn’t play as I expected."

Switzerland are level with France on three points but below them on goals scored after the host nation beat Romania 2-1 in the tournament curtain-raiser on Friday.

Coach Vladimir Petkovic said Switzerland needed to play better.

"We sometimes took two steps back and slowed the tempo too much and weren’t the side that we were in the first 20-30 minutes. It is our fault they grew into the game," he said.

Albanian and Kosovan Albanian immigration to Switzerland meant both sides included players who were eligible to play for the other.

Brothers Granit and Taulant Xhaka were on opposing sides in midfield – the first time it has happened in Euro history – giving the game even more spice.

Noisy Albanian fans made up the majority of the 40,000 strong crowd – bigger than the population of Lens.

Switzerland midfielder Shaqiri, of Kosovan Albanian heritage, was heavily booed by the Albanian fans at every opportunity early on but he soon silenced them when his standard corner was met by Schaer and Berisha was left punching thin air.

Excited Albania supporters were congregating outside the stadium well over five hours before kick-off. The early goal knocked some of the stuffing out of them but their team tried to grab a foothold in the game with some tenacious tackling.

The industrious Taulant Xhaka then shot wide with a decent chance after 25 minutes and striker Armando Sadiku had a golden opportunity to level but fired straight at Yann Sommer's legs.

But Albania's improvement was stopped in its tracks when defender Cana was sent off for a second yellow card after stumbling and handling the ball just outside the area.

Switzerland's Blerim Dzemaili then struck the post with the subsequent free-kick and went close soon afterwards with another good chance.

The second half was a quieter affair but Albania still tried to probe despite being a man down and had half a shout for a penalty, while substitute Shkelzen Gashi ought to have equalized three minutes from time.

Switzerland, tipped as tournament dark horses by some pundits given their strong midfield, nervously closed out the game but should have netted more.

Fans will worry about their lack of cutting edge up front with Haris Seferovic failing to score when clean through four times.

Divided loyalties among fans were clear in the buildup to the game with one car spotted at the ground flying Albania flags from the sunroof, but with a Switzerland scarf in the back window.

Whether they switch to only supporting the Swiss now remains to be seen.

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