Switzerland into last 16 after edging tempestuous five-goal shootout with Serbia

Serbia 2-3 Switzerland: Shaqiri, Embolo and Freuler netted for the Swiss, who came from behind to win

Peter Hall
In Doha
Friday 02 December 2022 23:35 GMT
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Another thrilling final group match which turned this way and that ended with Switzerland reaching the last 16 of the World Cup for the third time in their last four attempts after beating Serbia 3-2.

While the action on the pitch was exhilarating, with the lead changing hands on three occasions, the encounter will also be remembered for off-the-ball clashes between both sets of players, while fans in the stadium had to be warned about their behaviour too.

In a rematch of the ill-tempered 2018 World Cup clash between the pair, when Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka celebrated the last-gasp success by making an eagle gesture, pointing to their Albanian heritage. Serbians consider Kosovo, where there is an Albanian majority, as a Serbian province.

This tussle was always going to be spicy and it did not fail to deliver in entertainment value too, with Switzerland booking a knockout tie with Portugal, while a talented Serbia head home winless.

The Swiss almost had the ball in the net in under a minute, but Xhaka’s shot was blocked, Breel Embolo was denied by a smart save by Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, before the Serbian stopper got up to deny Xhaka again. It was the first time, since such data was made available from 1966, that a team had three shots inside the first minute of a World Cup match.

It was no surprise then when Shaqiri became the third person to score at each of the last three World Cup tournaments as his deflected strike found the net after 20 minutes. The other two players to do so are Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

There was no repeat of the eagle gesture, but the former Liverpool forward did point to the name of the back of his shirt in front of Serbian supporters in the stands, before shushing in their direction. He could not just let it pass, could he?

The first-half scoring was far from done there, as dynamic Serbian strike duo Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic both struck to turn the match on its head, and not for the first time.

Firstly, Fulham forward Mitrovic glanced a perfect header into the corner, his fifth World Cup career goal, while Juventus’ Vlahovic opened his World Cup account with a superb finish across the goalkeeper Gregor Kobel, standing in for the ill No 1 stopper Yann Sommer.

Granit Xhaka argues with Serbia's goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic

The Swiss, who had made it out of the group stages in three of their last four appearances at the finals, would not go away, and a sweeping move, finished off by Embolo, levelled things up before the break.

It was the first time since England against Argentina at France 1998 that both teams had scored twice in the first half of a World Cup match, and three minutes after the break we had a fifth goal, as the momentum again swung in Switzerland’s favour, Nottingham Forest’s Remo Freuler finding the net after another super move.

Shaqiri was subbed to perhaps save him from boiling over, something that did not have an immediate calming effect as he punched the plastic dugout wall, cracking it, when he went to take his seat on the bench.

It is unclear why, but a small group of supporters were escorted out of the stadium late in the second half, while there was an announcement calling for supporters to stop making discriminatory chanting.

A late brawl, started by Xhaka, was how the match fittingly ended. This time, the flag Shaqiri was promoting in the celebrations was a Swiss one as the knockout stages once again beckon.

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