Shaqiri secures Switzerland precious World Cup win | Sunday Observer

Shaqiri secures Switzerland precious World Cup win

Xherdan Shaqiri
Xherdan Shaqiri

Xherdan Shaqiri seals victory for Switzerland with a late counter-attacking goal that completed the comeback from 1-0 down to Serbia.

It was when Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri celebrated their goals with the Albanian eagle that you knew just how much beating Serbia meant to them.

Two players of Kosovan descent not only put Switzerland on the brink of the World Cup knockout stages but they struck a blow for the nation their opponents’ government still refuses to recognise.

Whatever Arsenal fans think of Xhaka, surely not even they would begrudge him what must have been one of the most emotional goals of this World Cup, with his father having been imprisoned for campaigning for the independence of Kosovo.

His equaliser, cancelling out Aleksandar Mitrovic’s early opener, kept Switzerland’s Group E destiny in their own hands before Shaqiri put them firmly in control of it and left Serbia needing to beat Brazil to reach the last 16 for the first time since their country became independent itself.

Shaqiri’s stoppage-time winner sparked wild celebrations, the Stoke City winger tearing off his shirt before repeating Xhaka’s earlier gesture, the significance of which he sought to play down afterwards.

“In football, you have always emotions and at least you can see what I did and I think it’s just emotion and I’m very happy to score this goal,” he said.

Both managers, at pains during the build-up to this fixture to steer pre-match talk away from the politics of it, refused to discuss the gestures of Xhaka and Shaqiri.

Sarajevo-born Switzerland boss Vladimir Petkovic said: “It’s clear that emotions show up and that’s how things happen. We, all together, need to stay away from politics in football and we should focus on this sport as a beautiful game and something that brings people together.”

The first meeting of these two sides since the collapse of Yugoslavia had long been billed as a grudge match, given Shaqiri and team-mate Valon Behrami were both born in Kosovo and Xhaka’s family was forced to flee from there.

Shaqiri even speaks Albanian at home and has long worn boots bearing the flag of both his adopted country and birthplace, an online picture of which last month prompted a caustic response from Mitrovic.

As well as earning their country a Fifa fine for a World War II-era banner in their World Cup opener in Samara, Serbia fans could apparently be heard singing “Kosovo je Srbija” (Kosovo is Serbia) in the city’s bars after the game.

In Kaliningrad, a place with its own complex history of nationhood, they made their feelings clear by jeering Switzerland’s Balkan-blooded players from the moment their names were announced over the public address.

The jeers turned to cheers when Serbia took the lead inside five minutes. Switzerland failed to learn their lesson as, first, Mitrovic climbed highest to connect with a header that Yann Sommer did well to repel, before the Newcastle United striker outmuscled Fabian Schar to power home Dusan Tadic’s cross moments later.

Blerim Dzemaili, another Balkan-born Swiss, screwed wide from Ricardo Rodriguez’s cutback but Mitrovic was winning almost everything in the air. He also saw fit to barge into the back of Shaqiri in what was a visible reminder of the bad blood between them.

Switzerland soon began finding their own chinks in their opponents’ back line and would have equalised after half an hour but for a superb reflex save by Vladimir Stojkovic from Dzemaili.

But they looked like conceding from every high ball and would have done from a corner had Dusko Tosic not failed to connect with a free header and had Nemanja Matic been able to turn in the loose ball just before half-time.

In a breathless climax in which either side looked capable of snatching a winner, Mitrovic had a furious penalty appeal turned down for grappling, sparking another video technology row.

Stojkovic was then called into serious action to deny Mario Gavranovic from fellow substitute Breel Embolo’s knock-down. But given the politically-charged atmosphere, the clincher seemed destined to come from a Balkan and it was Shaqiri who provided it at the death.

Serbia were on the attack when the ball was played forward to the winger, who stayed onside by remaining in his own half before out-sprinting his pursuer and slotting under Stojkovic.

Serbia manager Mladen Krstajić refused to comment on the penalty incident and was defiant about his side’s chances of upsetting Brazil. He said: “Nothing is impossible in life. We respect their status as favourites to win but we are going to prepare. They have weak spots that we’ll try to exploit.” -AFP