Xhaka and Shaqiri goal celebrations bring Balkan politics to World Cup

Sherman Parsons
June 23, 2018

When Swiss midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri scored a 90th-minute victor against Serbia in their group E match at the World Cup on Saturday morning there was a hidden, or not-so-hidden, message behind his celebration. After scoring their respective goals, Xhaka's a 52nd-minute banger from 30 yards and Shaqiri's a calm extra-time finish from inside the box after drawing Serb keeper Vladimi Stojkovic out, both men made a similar hand gesture as part of their goal celebration.

But the best of the drama was saved until the 90th minute, when Serbian defender Dusko Tosic made a massive error - stepping up in his own half to leave Xherdan Shaqiri through on goal, the Stoke man racing through on goal and finishing calmly to give his side the victor to an epic encounter. Xhaka is of Albanian descent, and his father previously participated in a demonstration against the communist Yugoslavian rule in Kosovo that landed him a lengthy jail sentence. Serbia doesn't recognize Kosovo's independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

"I'm not into politics", he said, also speaking through an interpreter.

That is because several players in the Swiss squad have Kosovo Albanian roots, including midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri who was born in Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. You can see what I did, I have emotions. "I did it, and we don't have to speak about this". The hard-working striker (and goal-scorer) Aleksandar Mitrovic disrupted Switzerland's build-up play, and Nemanja Matic orchestrated the game while protecting the battle-hardened back four.

Serbia almost had their second just before the half but Dusko Tosic's diving header from point-blank range skidded off his head to Nemanja Matic who couldn't react fast enough to finish the chance. It's a wonderful atmosphere and positive emotions and that's what football should be about.

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"From day one when we saw the group draw many thought that Brazil was the favourite", said Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic.

Switzerland's hero paid tribute to his team-mates after they rallied to beat Group E rivals Serbia on Friday.

But it was Shaqiri who struck the decisive blow, breaking through Serbia's offside trap to slot home calmly as the 90 minutes wound down.

A draw for Serbia would have put them in the ascendancy going into that crucial crunch clash with the South Americans, but the Europeans will now be resting their hopes of qualification on, not only a Costa Rican masterclass, but also a masterclass of their own against the most decorated nation in the competition's history.

Xherdan Shaqiri scored a 90th-minute victor as Switzerland came from behind to beat Serbia 2-1 at the 2018 World Cup.

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