DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Switzerland’s loss made the upcoming World Cup the rematch is even more enticing and with a lot more on the line.
Since the fixture schedule was drawn up in April, the Group G match between Switzerland and Serbia has been one to watch. Not only because of the talented players of both teams, but also because of the political tension they brought to the pitch when they met at the last World Cup.
Four years ago in Russia, Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka celebrated his goal against Serbia making a two-headed eagle with his hands – thumbs representing the heads of the two eagles, fingers spread to look like feathers. The figure is considered an Albanian nationalist symbol.
Xherdan Shaqiri added another goal in the last minute of the game and did the same with his hands as the Swiss won 2-1 in the second of three group games.
Xhaka and Shaqiri have ethnic Albanian heritage and family ties to Kosovo. They were teenagers growing up in Switzerland when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, something Serbs still don’t recognize 14 years later.
Both players were fined by FIFA during the tournament and the Albanian government opened a bank account people to contribute to paying the fines of 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,500).
On Friday, only one of the two teams will be able to qualify for the round of 16 in Qatar. Brazil, who beat Switzerland 1-0 on Monday and beat Serbia 2-0 last Thursday, have already secured their place in the knockout stages.
The Swiss probably only needs a draw at the 974 Stadium and Shaqiri should be available to play after sitting out the match against Brazil with a muscle injury.
Xhaka, now 30 and a mature leader for his country, has put the controversial match four years ago behind him.
“(There’s) nothing in the story behind these two games,” the Arsenal midfielder said. “We’re Switzerland, they’re Serbia, that’s it. We’re here to play football – them, us too.”
However, the Serbian delegation to this year’s World Cup has already made the politics of Kosovo issue.
Serbia’s dressing room before the opening match against Brazil displayed a national flag with a territory that included Kosovo and the slogan “No Surrender”. FIFA opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian FA on Saturday.
Kosovo’s football federation formally complained to FIFA after the photo was circulated, and the country’s sports minister Khairula Ceku described the image as using the World Cup to promote “hateful, xenophobic and genocidal messages”.
The Swiss qualified for the last 16 in 2018 after drawing with Costa Rica in their final group game, while the Serbians were eliminated after losing to Brazil. This time the teams go head-to-head in their final group game.
“Of course history is history,” said Switzerland goalkeeper Jan Sommer, who also played against Serbia four years ago in Kaliningrad. “But at this point the game will be important.
“We already know this game,” Sommer added. “We had it in Russia.”
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports