World Cup 2018: Xherdan Shaqiri takes a step back after week in the limelight but remains intriguing as ever

After the rush of that memorable win against Serbia, the encounter with Costa Rica was a far more subdued affair for the Swiss winger

Samuel Lovett@samueljlovett
Wednesday 27 June 2018 19:47
Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri make an Albanian Eagle gesture towards Serbia after scoring for Switzerland

It’s been quite the week for Xherdan Shaqiri. An injury time winner against Serbia. A good old-fashioned political scandal, sparked via his controversial goal celebrations. A Fifa fine worth 10,000 Swiss francs. Football, as we know, is more than just a game.

In the wake of Friday’s 2-1 win over Serbia, Shaqiri held up his hands and admitted that it’s not easy keeping emotions out of the sport. “Emotions sometimes take over footballers and there was a lot of emotion out there,” the winger said. “To score a goal like that – it is very difficult to keep your emotions under check.”

Back home in Switzerland, Shaqiri’s emotional outburst was met with both contempt and praise. The country’s biggest-selling paper, Blick, called Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka “smiling idiots” after that thrilling win over Serbia. Others were proud of the Kosovan refugee for making his point on the grandest of stages.

Shaqiri fires in a free-kick for Switzerland 

It’s hard not to imagine Liverpool’s fans similarly taking delight in the player’s pointed performances at this summer’s World Cup. As a club that valorises those of a certain disposition – fiery, full of heart, passionate – Shaqiri more than fits the Anfield bill. With his move to Merseyside likely to be confirmed after the World Cup, the past fortnight has presented Shaqiri with the ideal chance to remind Liverpool’s supporters of his worth.

The winger did exactly that with his winning goal against Serbia last week. It was, as he said so himself, a “beautiful” moment – one that demonstrated his predator’s instinct and composure under pressure. “What was going through my mind? Just to score,” Shaqiri said afterwards. “I wasn’t nervous. Did I look nervous? I was very cool. It was important for me to score and it was a beautiful moment.”

If that game had served to remind us of his passion, Wednesday night’s encounter with Costa Rica offered a completely different insight. It was, in truth, a performance lacking in the headline-grabbing moments seen above. Instead, it was a display defined by the player’s lively running, quick feet work and eagle-eyed vision. Simple, yes, but efficient.

The winger in action during the second half

His passing was equally on point. Whether it was a well-weighted pass to Breel Embolo, playing him through on goal, or a smart, reverse pass to Josip Drmic outside of Costa Rica’s box, Shaqiri’s passes were considered and purposeful. There was an intelligence to his play, the sort that suggests he could easily grow accustomed to the heavy metal football deployed by Jurgen Klopp.

Still, Shaqiri nevertheless entertained with those menacing, piercing runs that, over the years, have come to mark his game. On 15 minutes, the winger put his foot on the pedal and drove straight and hard through the centre of Costa Rica’s midriff. It was a penetrative run that showcased his ability to inject urgency and purpose into a match.

It naturally made sense that, with 10 minutes to go, Shaqiri was brought off with the intention of preserving the 26-year-old for the knockout stages. After the rush of that memorable win against Serbia, Wednesday’s clash with Costa Rica was a far more subdued affair for him. But even if this wasn’t to be his evening, it was one that will keep Liverpool fans and alike intrigued by what is to come.

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