Saturday, 21 July, 2018

Switzerland's late victor over Serbia throws World Cup's Group E wide open

Hirving Lozano Serbia v Switzerland
Sergio Cook | 23 June, 2018, 04:30

Hoping to turn the game on its head, Switzerland made a change at the start of the second half as Mario Gavranovic made his first World Cup appearance.

Coincidentally, Xherdan Shaqiri went on to score a late victor for Switzerland, who move level on points with Brazil at the top of Group E, in the 2-1 triumph.

Boasting one of the oldest defences in the tournament, Serbia's rearguard and goalkeeper have collectively racked up almost 300 caps between them, as defensive tyro Nikola Milenkovic is the only player in the Serbian backline below the age of 30. Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic asked recently.

And that resurgence continues to grow game-by-game, as Mitrovic has now scored 18 goals in 26 games for club and country in 2018. The Nati playmaker told Swiss television that he had been advised to keep a low profile and skip the news conference for fear of stoking up ethnic tensions ahead of the game.

Xhaka was born to Kosovan-Albanian parents and his father Ragip spent three-and-a-half years in prison for demonstrating against the Communist Yogoslavia rule in Kosovo. His family, like Shaqiri's, hail from Kosovo, whose independence is not recognised by Serbia for historic reasons. Not between Swiss and Serbian fans, but between Albanian and Serbian supporters. "But there is this history between them and the Albanians in our team, so it was not easy".

During the game Shaqiri wore athletic shoes that depicted the Kosovo flag of Kosovo on the back of one heel and the Swiss flag on the other.

The celebration was a nod to his Kosovar Albanian heritage and a pointed gesture aimed at Serbia.

He has the flags of Switzerland and Kosovo tattooed on his left arm.

It is not a mistake current coach Mladen Krstajic intends to repeat and the Lazio man - who has reportedly attracted the interest of Real Madrid - was lively against Costa Rica.

For 47 minutes, Serbia had one foot in the last 16, playing a muscular yet intelligent football that was immediately reminiscent of Croatia's 3-0 win over Argentina the night before.

Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic didn't want to discuss the issue Thursday. We've seen again today how difficult Costa Rica are to beat but it is highly unlikely that the hard-running, niggly Swiss spoilers will afford them any more space to play.

Serbia had chances to score more before halftime. The Serbia and Switzerland clash promise to be an all European cracker.

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