World Cup 2018: Switzerland ready to put politics behind them after Shaqiri-Xhaka saga in bid to reach last-16

Away from ‘double-eagle head’ celebrations and Fifa fines being paid for by pro-Kosovo supporters, Switzerland have put together an impressive start in Russia

Jack de Menezes@JackdeMenezes
Tuesday 26 June 2018 18:08
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Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri make an Albanian Eagle gesture towards Serbia after scoring for Switzerland

The importance of Xherdan Shaqiri’s injury-time winner against Serbia Football has somewhat been lost in the days since Switzerland's crucial 2-1 victory as talk of Fifa bans, fines and pro-Albanian gestures dominated the headlines, but below the surface is the realisation that the Swiss are proving to be quite a handy proposition.

The celebrations of both Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka – as well as that of Switzerland teammate Stephan Lichtsteiner – led to individual fines of 10,000 Swiss francs [£7,632] as they were deemed to have broken Fifa’s regulations on political regulations by “provoking the general public during a match” by displaying a hand gesture resembling the Albanian ‘double-headed eagle’ flag.

The controversy fuelled speculation that they could receive the maximum punishments of a two-game ban each, though Fifa decided not to impose the sanction and instead stuck to the financial penalty.

For players who are so invested in the matter, having grown up as children of Kosovan refugees and, in the case of Xhaka, political prisoners, this is nothing. Fine after fine could arrive at their doorstep and yet they some sort of gesture would likely be made in any match against Serbia.

In fact, a Go Fund Me page has already been set-up to pay for the fines by supporters of the pro-Albania and pro-Kosovo cause, raising at time of writing more than £15,000 of the £18,880 total.

All of this has taken away from the fact that after a draw against Brazil and a resilient comeback victory against Serbia, Switzerland could go on and claim top spot in Group E. Whether or not that would be favourable depends on what Germany achieve in Group F, but it would be a major statement from the Swiss – the second of this tournament.

It appears that any further political statement throughout the tournament will be shelved, too, in order to let their football do the talking. “We have to think about the main thing, which is playing football,” said midfielder Valon Behrami, another member of the squad with Kosovan roots who admitted that the issues of their history “goes a little bit deeper” that simply football.

“Football is rightly an emotional game, and it has to be,” added the Swiss manager Vladimir Petkovic. “What has happened has happened, and now and we have to be aware of things like that — and we have to learn from that.”

While they can still finish top, they can also be eliminated if a slip-up occurs on Wednesday and Serbia get a result against the Brazilians. But the advantage comes in that Petkovic’s side take on already-eliminated Costa Rica, who go into the game without a point and the only team without a goal in Russia.

“Mind you, this is not going to be an easy one,” Petkovic said. “This is a good quality opponent. Obviously they are a proud team and have nothing to lose and are potentially dangerous.”

Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic (L) and midfielder Valon Behrami both stressed that the football should take precedent ahead of the politics

“I know it’s very interesting for people to read such things,” he said. “But this [politics] should not be a time-waster for us. We really didn’t talk about it. We carried on talking about football.”

His side are proving to be a resilient bunch that are also blessed with a sprinkling of x-factor, as both Shaqiri and Xhaka proved against Serbia. Fate could see it that both players come up against the country where they ply their trade in England come the quarter-finals, and on the evidence so far, that’s a harder proposition than meets the eye.

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