Artículo

Xhaka and Shaqiri follow the script as Serbia are derailed

22 junio 2018 23:12

If there was a script set out for Friday's World Cup clash between Serbia and Switzerland, three men would have been the leading candidates to play the main role.

In the end, two of those possibilities - Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri - led the way. It simply had to be them.

The build-up to the contest had centred as much on the politics surrounding the heritage of Shaqiri, Xhaka and Valon Behrami as the actual football, regardless of the two coaches' attempt to calm things.

The aforementioned Swiss players are all of Kosovan heritage, with Shaqiri born in the partially recognised nation which was fought over by forces from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – Montenegro and Serbia at that time – and the Kosovo Liberation Army in the late 1990s.

Despite being recognised by UEFA, Serbia refuses to see Kosovo as an independent state, meaning relations remain tense.

As such, it seemed entirely predictable that at least one of the three Swiss stars would plot Serbia's downfall, derailing their World Cup campaign.

Before the game it was the right foot of Shaqiri that received all the attention, as the heel of his boot featured the Kosovo flag, with the Swiss version on the other. Aleksandar Mitrovic suggested out loud Shaqiri should switch allegiances.

Unsurprisingly, jeers greeted his every touch throughout the match and, for a while Serbia looked good value to secure their first progression to the World Cup knockout phase since becoming an independent nation, their opponents struggling to repeat their heroics against Brazil.

Switzerland played the role of party poopers in their World Cup opener – they knew they didn't have the ability to take Brazil head on and so played to their strengths. Brazil had 21 shots to Switzerland's six, yet Vladimir Petkovic's side came out with a point, seemingly setting themselves up nicely to take on a Serbia side they surely fancied their chances against.

Little could have prepared them for the early onslaught they found themselves facing in Kaliningrad, though. Mitrovic went close with a header early on before nodding in the opener with just five minutes on the clock.

Serbia attacked with potency; their midfielders were neat and seemingly capable of picking holes in their opponents like Swiss cheese, while their wingers were skilful, direct and eager to feed the hungry Mitrovic.

However, they faded as time ticked by, allowing Switzerland to take control, even if they only managed to threaten once for the remainder of the first half.

Xhaka then took centre-stage early in the second period, sending a thunderbolt of a shot beyond Vladimir Stojkovic from 25 yards.

His reaction displayed the sheer passion you'll see in few other celebrations at these finals, as he darted away, tongue out and hands seemingly imitating the wings of the two-headed eagle from the flag of Albania, the country of his father who was once a political prisoner in the former Yugoslavia.

Shaqiri struck the woodwork soon after, but the writers clearly had a more dramatic twist for the ending.

The winger raced clear late on and, despite coming under pressure, slotted the ball under Stojkovic to give Switzerland the win and spark celebrations which will be felt as much in Kosovo as they will in Bern, Basle, Geneva and Zurich.

Xhaka and Shaqiri stuck to the script, with their contributions potentially spelling 'THE END' for Serbia's World Cup campaign.

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