Xherdan Shaqiri responded by saying “it’s just emotion” when he was questioned about the way he celebrated his late winner in Switzerland’s 2-1 victory over Serbia.
Stoke winger Shaqiri and Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka, who netted Switzerland’s equaliser in the World Cup Group E contest in Kaliningrad, each celebrated their goals by making a gesture with their hands that was an apparent nod to the Albanian flag.
Both are among the players in the Switzerland team who have links to Kosovo – Shaqiri wears boots with the Kosovo flag displayed on one heel and the Swiss one on the other.
When asked about the way he had celebrated, Shaqiri said in a post-match press conference streamed on FIFA’s website: “I think in football you have always emotions.
“You can see what I did and I think it’s just emotion. I’m very happy to score this goal. It’s not more. I think we don’t have to speak about this now.”
When Switzerland boss Vladimir Petkovic was questioned about the gestures, he said: “I can only repeat what I already said yesterday – you should never mix politics and football.
“It’s clear that emotions show up and that’s how things happen. I think we all together need to steer away from politics in football and we should focus on this sport as a beautiful game and something that brings people together.
“I think we should not talk that much about politics but show our mettle on the pitch.”
Serbia boss Mladen Krstajic said when asked if he had any comment to make about the celebrations: “I don’t have any comment. I don’t deal with these things. I am a man of sports and this is what I am going to stay. I have no comment.”
Having fallen behind in the fifth minute via Aleksandar Mitrovic’s header, Petkovic’s men drew level in the 52nd minute when Shaqiri’s shot was blocked and Xhaka blasted the loose ball into the net.
Shaqiri, who sent a fine effort against the post shortly after the equaliser, then completed the turnaround in the 90th minute as a Swiss counter-attack saw him receive the ball from substitute Mario Gavranovic, burst forward and slot coolly past Vladimir Stojkovic.
Newcastle striker Mitrovic, so impressive on loan at Fulham last season, was aggrieved that Serbia were not awarded a penalty in the 66th minute after he was caught in a tangle with Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar.
Switzerland are up into second place in the group, level on four points from two games with Brazil. Serbia are a point behind in third, with pointless fourth-placed Costa Rica eliminated after their 2-0 loss to the Brazilians earlier on Friday.
The final round of fixtures sees Serbia play Brazil and Switzerland face Costa Rica.
Petkovic, whose side came from behind to draw 1-1 with Brazil on Sunday, said: “What is important is we have developed a winning mentality. Even if we are down, we try to be positive and win each game. We always find a reaction and this is a positive characteristic of our team.”
Krstajic said of the second-half incident involving Mitrovic: “Whether this was a penalty or not, that is something I won’t comment on.”
He added: “We’re in a situation where we need a win against Brazil and we will focus and do whatever we can to try to win. Nothing is impossible in life.
“We respect their status as the favourites to win, but we are going to prepare. They have some weak spots that we are going to try to exploit.”
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
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
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
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.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos said Ronaldo is getting better with age after the 33-year old’s latest match-winning efforts.
Ronaldo’s hat-trick rescued Portugal in an opening 3-3 draw against Spain before his fourth-minute header clinched a 1-0 win Morocco in Group B.
With his sights set on the next clash against Iran, Ronaldo took part in training.
Watch the full video below.