Xherdan Shaqiri lets his feet do the talking and other Switzerland v Serbia talking points

Matt Jones 23/06/2018
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Switzerland put themselves in a commanding position to qualify from Group E as they came from behind to beat Serbia 2-1.

Aleksandar Mitrovic opened the scoring in no time for Serbia, rising like a salmon to beautifully flick in Dusan Tadic’s expert cross, leaving Yann Sommer stunned in the Swiss goal.

It was a strong performance from the Serbs, but the Swiss reacted in the second half, Granit Xhaka’s stunning strike following a loose ball leveling it up for Vladimir Petkovic’s side.

Serbia seemed keen to settle for a point but the Swiss were having none of it and stole all three points with stoppage time looming, Xherdan Shaqiri running on to a loose ball and scoring stylishly to secure a hard-fought victory.

 

SHAQIRI LETS HIS FEET DO THE TALKING

Shaqiri

Switzerland coach Petkovic said before this game he expected more from Shaqiri after a solid if unspectacular performance in their impressive 1-1 draw with Brazil.

The Bosnia-born coach had been trying to avoid detonating a political row when asked about his star turn’s choice of footwear – Shaqiri is wearing a right boot with the Kosovo flag stitched on the heel to pay tribute to his heritage, with a Swiss flag on his left.

Shaqiri is a Swiss citizen but was born in Yugoslavia to Kosovan-Albanian parents. Serbia refusing to recognise the former as an independent state provided plenty of additional needle prior to kick-off, tensions were high.

Petkovic said before the game: “I always expect more and better. He is never satisfied with what he has already achieved – he always wants to go further.”

If Shaqiri was listening, it showed in a priceless 2-1 win that saw him score decisively as the Swiss became the first team to come from behind to triumph at this World Cup – putting them in prime position to qualify from and even with the group.

Petkovic required a shining performance from his star man, and he got it.

Shaqiri was at the forefront of everything Switzerland did in the second half, who shut the door on a woeful first-half performance and possibly closed the door on their heated rivals’ knockout stage hopes – with Serbia to face Brazil in their final game.

Four dribbles, fouled five times, an 89.1 per cent pass success rate (Switzerland’s third best), he even made an interception. Only one of his seven shots was on target but it proved pivotal, with his ferocious work rate and desire the hallmark of a heroic second-half showing from his side.

For a country famously neutral, there was something distinctly partisan about this victory.

MUCH MALIGNED MITROVIC

Aleksandar Mitrovic opened the scoring in style for Serbia.

Aleksandar Mitrovic opened the scoring in style for Serbia.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is the Serbian star on the name of everyone’s lips at the World Cup, but the nation’s previous wunderkind served up a reminder of his lingering importance with a brilliant header and industrious show against the Swiss.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, remember him? He was the rising Serbian striking sensation signed for £13 million by Newcastle three summers ago.

He arrived with a glowing reputation, having bagged 44 goals in 90 games over two seasons for Anderlecht, and Toon fans were further hyped when Mitrovic said upon his arrival on Tyneside that he’d been a lifelong Magpies fan who’d idolised Alan Shearer as a kid.

“(He) is a hero of mine. I hope I can play like him for this club,” the youngster had said.

To put it simply, he hasn’t played anything near the Toon idol. He remains a Newcastle player but has scored just 17 times in 72 games and was loaned out to Championship Fulham in February.

He made himself at home at Craven Cottage, firing 12 goals in 20 appearances which helped promote the London club back into the Premier League.

Despite his relative struggles for club, he has plundered goals at international level – netting 15 in his last 18 starts.

He has 16 goals in 38 caps and is carrying on in Russia where he left off from qualifying, where he bagged six goals in 10 games.

Mitrovic caused a myriad of problems for Switzerland early on. He’d won three aerial duels inside the opening 15 minutes (eight overall) and proved a handful throughout, humming with confidence, typified by his clinical headed opener and a spectacular bicycle kick attempted soon after.

It’s worth noting that despite the meandering nature of his career, Mitrovic is still only 23, the same age as new national team poster boy, Milinkovic-Savic. Yet the Lazio man has just five caps.

SWISS ARE NOT SOFT

Granit Xhaka scored a stunning equaliser for the Swiss.

Granit Xhaka scored a stunning equaliser for the Swiss.

Switzerland’s never say die attitude that was a trademark on their qualifying path to Russia has followed them to the World Cup too.

Two sublime displays of teamwork have put them on the brink of qualifying for the knockout stages, and they’ll pose a dangerous proposition to anyone they should meet there.

Petkovic’s side may not be packed with quality, but they are a solid unit that were one of the prime performers during qualifying. That may not appear evident considering they had to go through the play-offs.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. They finished second in Group B behind Portugal, with the European champions only scraping through on goal difference on the final match day.

Indeed, it was only a 2-0 win against the Swiss in Lisbon last October that hauled Fernando Santos’ side level at the top and spared them the indignation of going through an extra round of tension.

Switzerland boasted the third highest points tally (27) in European qualifying and scored the seventh most goals (23).

As if drained from that effort and losing top spot to Portugal, they trod a precarious path through the play-offs where Ricardo Rodriguez’s penalty was pivotal in a 1-0 aggregate triumph over plucky Northern Ireland.

But under Petkovic they are battle-hardened and have showed tremendous spirit to hold Brazil to a draw and take Serbia’s scalp after such a disjointed opening 45 minutes.

They’ll now play already eliminated Costa Rica in the hope a handsome victory could see them qualify as group winners.

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Switzerland put themselves in a commanding position to qualify from Group E as they came from behind to beat Serbia 2-1.

Aleksandar Mitrovic opened the scoring in no time for Serbia, rising like a salmon to beautifully flick in Dusan Tadic’s expert cross, leaving Yann Sommer stunned in the Swiss goal.

It was a strong performance from the Serbs, but the Swiss reacted in the second half, Granit Xhaka’s stunning strike following a loose ball leveling it up for Vladimir Petkovic’s side.

Serbia seemed keen to settle for a point but the Swiss were having none of it and stole all three points with stoppage time looming, Xherdan Shaqiri running on to a loose ball and scoring stylishly to secure a hard-fought victory that saw them become the first team to come from behind and win at the 2018 World Cup.

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