Explaining why Switzerland vs Serbia at the World Cup is big


country of Switzerland And Serbia They are more than 600 miles (almost 1,000 kilometers) apart in central Europe, but when the two soccer teams face off in Group G on Friday to try for a place in the 2022 World Cup Round of 16, they will also return to 2018. reigniting an unlikely rivalry that boiled over in the previous World Cup.

when switzerland granite facade And sherdan shaqiri Scored in 2-1 win in 2018, both celebrate their goals putting your hands together to make the sign of a double-headed eagle – The thumbs represent two eagle heads, while the fingers look like wings – a reference to the flag of Albania. It was a controversial act and polarized opinion. FIFA fined both of them 10,000 Swiss francs (about $10,000) fined the Federation of Serbia 54,000 Swiss francs (about $57,000) for political incitement, as well as for discriminatory banners and slogans.

Asked about his controversial celebration after the game in 2018, Shaqiri, who now plays for MLS side Chicago Fire, replied: “It’s all about the excitement. … People are different to my delight.” -can be interpreted differently. If this gesture might hurt the sensibilities of the people who watched the game… I’m sorry.”

Xhaka was also remorseful, saying: “I am sorry for what happened and I would be a fool if I said I would do it again. It will never happen again.”

Hundreds of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, including a government minister, raised enough money to pay their fines. But Xhaka and Shaqiri are among several international players with Kosovo-Albanian heritage playing for other international teams. Adnan JanujajThe belgium Internationally, he has his roots there, as do former Switzerland international Valon Behrami.

Kosovo has its own youth national team hoping to qualify for major tournaments in the future, but for now the country’s fans will be rooting behind Switzerland on Friday.

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To understand this tension more deeply, we need a brief history lesson.

Shaqiri and Xhaka’s parents are from the now independent Kosovo, an ethnically Albanian state (92% of the population are Albanians) that was involved in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s – a series of conflicts after which the former Yugoslavia was split independently Was ruled country. The last to gain independence was Kosovo, which was under Serbian control, with the Kosovo War in 1998–99 claiming the lives of 12,000 Kosovo-Albanians and displacing an estimated 1.5 million in the region.

“A guerrilla war was waged by the Kosovo Liberation Army against the Serbian army and police before NATO launched airstrikes against Yugoslavia, which ended with the liberation of Kosovo and the Serbian army and police,” Kosovo-based journalist Djamajal Rexa explains. Kosovo was run by a United Nations administration until 2008, after which it declared its independence on February 17, 2008. About 4% of Kosovo’s population are ethnic Serbs, who refuse to recognize Kosovo as a state. and want to return it to Serbia.”

Three months later, Xhaka’s father Ragip met his future wife, Elmaje. In 1986, he was imprisoned for six years for participating in student protests against the then Yugoslavian government in Pristina. In an interview with Blick earlier this yearRagip spoke out through the ordeal, claiming he was tortured on the spot for six months, eventually serving three and a half years of his prison sentence until Amnesty International secured his release along with other detainees. I didn’t help.

After being freed, Ragip realized that it was too unsafe to stay, instead moving to Switzerland with Elmez in 1990. In 1991, Zakas’s first son, Tallent, was born in Basel, while Granit was born 18 months later in 1992. Both were talented footballers: Granit began his career at FC Basel, but ended up with the German Bundesliga. borussia monchengladbachback to the premier league armory and chose to play for Switzerland; Toulant remained in the Swiss league with Basel for his entire club career and opted to represent Albania at international level.

“If there is a national team [at the World Cup] What unites Kosovo-Albanians is Switzerland, and it is thanks to Kosovo-born Shaqiri and Xhaka.” Rexa told ESPN. “Shaqiri is one of the best in the history of the Swiss national team, and it source of pride. Here. Both of them are closely related to Kosovo. Shaqiri’s shoes carry the Kosovo flag most of the time with the swiss one. Granit visits Kosovo frequently, helping local football teams with different donations. Granit often posts in Albanian on his Instagram page, and it is greatly appreciated here, as a fact he is also very proud of his heritage.”

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This match will also be a tough test of Xhaka’s temperament and leadership ability. There will likely be booing by Serbian fans in the stands, but you’d think this 2022 version of Xhaka – in the form of his life for Arsenal before moving to Qatar – would handle it better than 2018.

In July 2022, Xhaka spoke to ESPN In an exclusive interview about his journey. He made reference to the controversy surrounding him in October 2019 when, as Arsenal captain, he told fans to “f— off” when he was substituted. diamond palace, Xhaka was stripped of his armband and came close to leaving the club in early 2020. In 2022, looking back, he sees that moment as “a big misunderstanding from them, from me, in my opinion. But I play football because I have a lot of passion.”

The arrival of Mikel Arteta as manager convinced Xaka to stay and this season, he has been indispensable in their campaign at the top of the Premier League. The midfielder has benefited from a more advanced midfield role with the Gunners – playing more as a number 8 than a number 6 – although has been reluctant to talk about his own form.

After scoring the winner against PSV in October, he said: “I’m too experienced, not too smart, because I don’t want to fool myself, but with games, with age, with everything else.” , you become a different player, a different person. I am very happy that everything is happening like I always dreamed of.”

Xhaka has been Switzerland’s pacing voice in Qatar; Diplomatic at news conferences and a calm presence on the field. ahead of the opening game against Switzerland cameroon, Xhaka was asked again about his father, but he deflected the question from the Swiss spokesman. Later asked if he was expecting Serbia to do some harsh justice, he replied: “We are all professionals – every team wants to win and that is the most important thing – we are here to play football and We are not here to play football.” educate someone ,

After the Cameroon match, Xhaka was again asked about Serbia. “Serbia is a good team, they have great players,” he replied. “Maybe that match will be decisive, maybe not, we’ll see what happens against Brazil, then we’ll move on to Serbia.”

Meanwhile, pictures of his changing room surfaced after the match between Serbia and Brazil. Including independent Kosovo within its borders was a Serbia flag with an outline of the country, with the slogan: “We do not surrender.”

Kosovo’s Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Hajrula Seku wrote on Twitter in response: “Disgraceful images from Serbia’s locker room, displaying hateful, xenophobic and genocidal messages towards Kosova, exploiting the FIFA World Cup platform. We at FIFA We expect concrete action from Kosovo. Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK) is a full member of FIFA and UEFA.” FIFA has since initiated disciplinary proceedings against Serbia.,

With Brazil six points safe, the winner of Friday’s final group game between Switzerland and Serbia will likely take second place (unless Cameroon pulls off a surprise) and regardless of additional subplots, it’s a big match.

Swiss supporters have been keeping a close eye on the past fortnight and how Xhaka in particular has handled it. “He’s our hero, a legend of the team, but he knows the team is very important as captain,” a Swiss fan told ESPN ahead of the Brazil game on Monday. “He’s matured a lot over the years, we didn’t see those red cards at Arsenal. We’re very proud of him.

“When we played against Serbia in 2018 it became a big political issue. I don’t think Shaqiri and Xhaka understood how big what they were doing was, and won’t make the same mistake again. Will go.”

But all eyes will be on the game in Kosovo.

“The Pristina City Hall will organize a huge screening and thousands of people will attend,” Rexa said. “The game will be closely watched around Kosovo, including in Shaqiri’s birthplace, Gjilan, where flags are raised high when he plays.”

But when the match kicks off at Stadion 974, for Xhaka and his Switzerland teammates, the focus will simply be on reaching the knockout stages.

Switzerland manager Murat Yakin said, “I think we are well prepared and need to be at our best to play against Serbia.” “We should focus on football, on football. It’s a defining game for both teams – and we want to focus on football, everything else I don’t really care about.”

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