KALININGRAD, Russia – Albania’s national flag was at the centre of Switzerland’s 2-1 victory over Serbia on Friday at the World Cup.
Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage.
Both players put their open hands together with their thumbs locked and fingers outstretched to make what looks like the double-headed eagle displayed on Albania’s flag. The thumbs represent the heads of the two eagles, while the fingers look like the feathers.
“I think about this, I don’t want to speak,” said Shaqiri, who also took off his shirt after scoring. “In football, you have always emotions. You can see what I did, and it’s just emotion, and I’m just happy to have scored the goal. I did it, and we don’t have to speak about this.”
The gesture is likely to inflame tensions among Serb nationalists and ethnic Albanians.
Shaqiri was born in Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense. Xhaka’s parents are originally from Kosovo and they are of Albanian heritage. His brother plays for Albania’s national team.
Years of war in Balkans sent many families to western European countries, including Switzerland. The Swiss have dozens of ethnic Albanians in their national soccer program.
Serbia’s players did not react to the eagle gestures at Kaliningrad Stadium.
“I don’t have any comments,” Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic said. “I don’t deal with these things. I am a man of sports, and this is what I’m going to stay being.”
In the tournament’s first come-from-behind victory, Xhaka made it 1-1 in the 52nd minute with a powerful shot through a crowded penalty area. Shaqiri added the other in injury time after running past the Serbian defence.
Their celebrations were emotional and could overshadow Switzerland’s victory.
“You should never mix politics and football. You should always show respect,” Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said. “It’s a wonderful atmosphere and a positive experience and that’s what football should be about.”
Aleksandar Mitrovic scored for Serbia with a header in the fifth minute.
The win puts Switzerland into second place in Group E with four points, the same as Brazil. The Swiss will advance to the round of 16 if they beat Costa Rica on Wednesday in Nizhny Novgorod. Serbia will face Brazil in Moscow at the same time.
Serbia had chances to score more before halftime. Mitrovic came close in the 19th minute when he controlled a cross from Branislav Ivanovic on his chest and sent a bicycle kick over the bar.
Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia could all still claim first place in the group with a win on Wednesday. Costa Rica has been eliminated.
KEY TO SUCCESS
Shaqiri’s runs down the wings were a constant threat to Serbia’s defence, while the Swiss midfield recovered after a shaky start to dominate in the same way it did against Brazil in their first match.
Mitrovic was a handful for Switzerland with his strong physical presence close to the goal. The Swiss decision to put two defenders on him paid off in the second half, though Serbia had a strong appeal for a penalty when two defenders appeared to wrestle Mitrovic to the ground as he tried to head a cross.
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This story has been corrected to show the score was 2-1, not 2-0.