A gritty Switzerland came from behind last night in Kaliningrad to tip Serbia over by 2-1, and make a bold step towards the World Cup 2018 Round of 16. Politics got mixed with football as goals for the Swiss came from the last two players on earth the Serbs would have wanted to see scoring – Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, both of Kosovan / Albanian heritage.
Both scorers added fuel to the fire by letting themselves go to a clearly symbolic celebration, putting their open hands together with thumbs locked and fingers outstretched, to represent the double-headed eagle displayed on Albania’s national flag. Xhaka went as far as wearing two different kind of shoes for the game – one displaying the Swiss flag, and the other with the flag of Kosovo, a former Serbian province of Albanian ethnicity, whose independence was never recognized by Belgrade.
“It’s just emotion,” Shaqiri said when asked about his celebration, whereas Serbian coach Mladen Krasjic declined to comment on the episode. What is sure is that football should be just football, and such references to a sensitive political situation which is far from being settled and reconciled, should be best left out of the field.
However, when it came to football itself, Switzerland did deserve to bring home the three points, despite conceding an early goal to Aleksandar Mitrovic, thanks to a stunning second half which led them to complete the first comeback victory in this World Cup. Coach Vladimir Petkovic’s side showed that the point snatched out of the hands of Brazil was not a random episode.
Serbia on the other hand, confirmed the good things seen during their debut match with Costa Rica, but were likely not expecting such a vehement reaction from the Swiss side, which punished them with a surgical counterattack when there was only one minute to go.
The Balkans had indeed a strong start, and when Mitrovic’s header called goalkeeper Yann Sommer to his first save after just four minutes, the impression was that the Serbians could make something good out of this game. Especially because, just one minute later, Mitrovic tried again from a cross by Dusan Tadic, but this time he put the ball where Sommer couldn’t arrive to give his team an early 1-0.
Switzerland’s reaction was in a cross by Steven Zuber which found Blerim Dzemaili in the box, but the shot of Bologna’s midfielder was cleared by Vladimir Stojkovic, the goalkeeper who kisses the ball every time he blocks it…
The Swiss came into the pitch after half time with Mario Gavranovic in place of Haris Seferovic, a substitution that will prove decisive in the last minutes. But before that, the match was levelled by Granit Xhaka, who pounded on a ball cleared by the Serbian defense, and fired a shot from 25 meters that left no chance to Stojkovic. Just one minute later, Xherdan Shaqiri produced a wonderful drive shot that hit the crossbar, switching the game momentum in favor of the red-crossed side.
If truth be told, Serbia would have had a chance to put their heads ahead again when Mitrovic was held down in the Swiss area, for what looked like a potential penalty. Referee Felix Brych’s interpretation was a double foul, both from him and his marker. But aside from that, Sommer didn’t run further risks, and it was rather Switzerland to come closer to score again, with Breel Embolo serving Gavranovic for a central shot that ended in the hands of the Serbian goalkeeper.
When the clock was striking minute 89, and with the whole of Serbia past their midfield line, the Swiss surprised them with three passes, and an action which should be shown in any Introduction to Counterattack course. Gavranovic served Shaqiri who run for half the pitch, resisted defender Dusko Tosic’s desperate intervention, and delivered the ball into the net before unleashing his controversial celebration.
Switzerland now have a golden chance to book a place among the world Top 16 as they face a demotivated Costa Rica in their last test in Group E. Serbia-Brazil, on the other hand, will turn into a real knock-out match, with coach Mladen Krasijic’s side forced to win in order to continue their championships dreams.
June 22, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool E
SCORERS: 5′ Mitrovic (Se), 52′ Xhaka (Sw), 90′ Shaqiri (Sw)
|SERBIA (4-2-3-1): Stojkovic; Ivanovic, Tosic, Milenkovic, Kolarov; Matic, Milivojevic (81′ Radonjic); Tadic, Milinkovic-Savic, Kostic (65′ Ljajic); Mitrovic (Rajkovic, Dmitrovic, Rukavina, Veljkovic, Spajic, Rodic, Grujic, Zivkovic, Prijovic, Jovic) Coach: Krstajic
|SWITZERLAND (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Schar, Akanji ,Rodriguez; Behrami, Xhaka; Shaqiri, Dzemaili (73′ Embolo), Zuber; Seferovic (46′ Gavranovic) (Mvogo, Burki, Lang, Djourou, Moubandje, Elvedi, Fernandes, Freuler, Drmic, Zakaria) Coach: Petkovic|
REFEREE: Brych (Germany)
NOTES: Attendance: 40904; Yellow Card: Milinkovic-Savic, Milivojevic, Matic (Se), Shaqiri (Sw); Extra Time: 1st half 2′, 2nd Half 6′