Granit Xhaka denies trying to inflame Balkan tensions with Jashiri shirt as Switzerland qualify

Switzerland players fighting - ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP
Switzerland players fighting - ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

Serbia 2 Switzerland 3

09:45 PM

Report

Switzerland and Granit Xhaka victorious on night of high emotion

There was always a chance it could come down to something Granit Xhaka might do and in the closing stages this game, aflame with Balkan tensions, felt like it might tip into violence as the Arsenal midfielder clashed with Fulham’s Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Eventually they were pulled apart although perhaps the Argentinian referee did not see everything that was said or done in the last minutes of a win for Switzerland secured second spot on Group G and a second round tie with Portugal on Tuesday. It left Serbia bottom of Group G with just a single point, in spite of being the top goalscorer in the group.

In the second half, there was a warning from the Stadium 974 announcer that “all discriminatory chants and gestures” should cease. What they were - hard to say in the immediate aftermath. The allegation was that it was the Serb fans’ offensive songs about Kosovans, as well as a three-fingered gesture which is intended to provoke. Dragan Stojkovic, the Serbia manager, would later say he had heard nothing from the fans.

The Serb bench cleared when Mitrovic was denied, correctly, a second half penalty. Stojkovic was caught by the cameras saying something alleged to be offensive. Xhaka, the Kosovan-heritage Switzerland captain, grabbed his crotch in provocation. Whether that is political or just plain obscenity was a matter to pick over afterwards.

Xhaka, who was Fifa’s man of the match, had decided to ignore the arguments. “You can hear from my voice that I am hoarse. It is a game with a lot of emotion. That's football. It was fair enough. We wanted to focus on football.” That was it. His manager Murat Yakin saw even less.

On the pitch at the end, Xhaka had put on a shirt bearing the name “Jashari”. He said it was in support of his Swiss team-mate Ardon Jashari, 20. Adem Jashari was one of the founders of the Kosovan Liberation Army, a Kosovan hero who was killed in 1998 after a three-day siege of his home by Yugoslav military. Xhaka said it referred only to Ardon and not Adem.

Xhaka wearing Jashari shirt - Sportfoto/Getty Images
Xhaka wearing Jashari shirt - Sportfoto/Getty Images
Nikola Milenkovic (L) of Serbia and Xherdan Shaqiri of Switzerland scuffle - SHUTTERSTOCK
Nikola Milenkovic (L) of Serbia and Xherdan Shaqiri of Switzerland scuffle - SHUTTERSTOCK

Either way, Xhaka and Mitrovic were hard to separate in the closing stages. There was anger and recriminations. It had started with Nikola Milenkovic going head-to-head with Xhaka. More Serbs piled in. Players from both sides grappled and argued deep into injury time. The referee Fernando Andrés Rapallini was barely in control. Serbia could see the end coming and once again it was Switzerland inflicting defeat at a World Cup.

Switzerland had taken the lead in the first half, thrown it away and then won the game with a second half goal from the Nottingham Forest midfielder Remo Freuler, a second half substitute. For the nine minutes they were behind, Switzerland were heading out the tournament. Serbia had looked dangerous in that first half and yet they never truly created the chances that might be expected at 3-2 down for most of the second half.

A strong political undercurrent to this one when, inevitably, Xherdan Shaqiri tucked one in at the near post after 20 minutes. None of the interlocking thumbs and fluttering fingers of his Kosovo flag-inspired celebration that so inflamed the game against Serbia at the last World Cup in 2018. Shaqiri, the Swiss team’s other famous Kosovan heritage player, did not entirely leave it alone. His shot had been teed up nicely by Djibril Sow.

Shaqiri cupped his ears to the Serbia fans. Then as he ran away he jabbed his thumbs at the name on his back. Five World Cup goals in 11 career appearances in the competition is a good run.

Switzerland's midfielder #23 Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates after scoring his team's first goa - INA FASSBENDER/AFP
Switzerland's midfielder #23 Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates after scoring his team's first goa - INA FASSBENDER/AFP

The equaliser was a glorious header from Mitrovic running across the box from the right to left, guided across the goalkeeper Gregor Kobel and in the corner opposite to the direction in which the striker was going. Perfect in every way. Serbia were fired up. The defender Strahinja Pavlovic threw himself in front of a shot from Ruben Vargas and celebrated it like a goal. It may even have been struck directly at his head.

A Serb second goal came soon after from Juventus’ Dusan Vlahovic. Xhaka had got a foot to the ball but Vlahovic spun on it and wrongfooted Kobel with the angle of his shot. Just before half-time a fine equaliser from Switzerland. A tidy finish from Breel Embolo and Serbia were wide open down their left from where Sylvain Widmer crossed.

Freuler got what was the winner three minutes after half-time from the lay off from Vargas. Serbia just could not get back into it. Brazil’s defeat to Cameroon meant that Serbia were bottom of what was one of the most competitive groups of this World Cup first round. “My team said they wanted to make history,” Yakin said. “We were happy with this result and the way we played. We deserved to win.”

Switzerland's midfielder Ardon Jashari, Switzerland's midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland's midfielder Granit Xhaka - SHUTTERSTOCK
Switzerland's midfielder Ardon Jashari, Switzerland's midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland's midfielder Granit Xhaka - SHUTTERSTOCK

09:18 PM

Has this group stage surpassed expectations?

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09:17 PM

Swiss celebrations

Switzerland's players celebrate their team victory at the end of the World Cup group G soccer match - AP
Switzerland's players celebrate their team victory at the end of the World Cup group G soccer match - AP
Switzerland's players celebrate their win in the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match - AFP
Switzerland's players celebrate their win in the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match - AFP

09:16 PM

Player ratings

Granit Xhaka was the sponsors' man of the match, but who was yours? Embolo, Mitrovic or someone else? Use our player ratings tool to decide.

09:14 PM

Some of the aggravation a few minutes from the end

Switzerland's players argue during the World Cup group G soccer match between Serbia and Switzerland - AP
Switzerland's players argue during the World Cup group G soccer match between Serbia and Switzerland - AP
Tempers flare between Vanka Milinkovic-Savic of Serbia and Granit Xhaka of Switzerland - Getty Images
Tempers flare between Vanka Milinkovic-Savic of Serbia and Granit Xhaka of Switzerland - Getty Images

09:03 PM

FT: Serbia 2 Switzerland 3

The Swiss players gather in a big huddle at the end: they are following Brazil into the last-16.

That was a proper game, exactly what you want to decide a group. The first-half was helter-skelter, but Switzerland were composed and rock solid in the second 45 minutes, and their substitutes had a more positive effect.

A few players in conversation with Xhaka, but despite some tension it does not look like anything has boiled over thankfully.

09:01 PM

99 minutes

Serbia have won a couple of late free-kicks, nervous moments for Switzerland because Cameroon have beaten Brazil in the other game so they need to win this!

That free-kick dropped for Kostic to hit on the half volley at the edge of the box, but it flies wide of the near post.

08:56 PM

96 minutes

This game will run beyond 97 minutes after that fracas. Embolo have been taken off an gets a big hug from his manager. A really dynamic and selfless centre-forward performance.

08:55 PM

94 minutes

Tempers fraying here. Xhaka and Milenkovic have some verbals before some pushing and shoving. Then the rest of the players get involved, and Zakaria looked to lean in with his head. Let's see if he gets further punishment.

Xhaka and Milenkovic both booked, before Mitrovic comes over to give Xhaka a message. It looked like something along the lines of: see you in the tunnel.

Serbia's and Switzerland's (in white) players argue during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G - AFP
Serbia's and Switzerland's (in white) players argue during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G - AFP

08:53 PM

92 minutes

Jovic's header from a long way out loops on to the roof of the net. Switzerland seeing this out well.

08:50 PM

SEVEN minutes of added time

Serbia have the ball in the Swiss half but they have everyone behind the ball.

08:50 PM

89 minutes

It looked like it was opening up for a fourth Switzerland goal there thanks to an inch-perfect Fernandes through ball but Milinkovic-Savic rushed out to smother.

08:46 PM

87 minutes

Switzerland are getting to the pitch of the second ball whenever Serbia go long to Mitrovic, they have doused those fires since half time. A really polished defensive performance, and still carried a threat going the other way.

08:44 PM

85 minutes

Now the referee gets in the way as Serbia try to pass the ball through midfield. While Serbia do not look likely, we could be in for another long period of injury time. So if they grab one, it could be on.

08:42 PM

83 minutes

More delays before the free-kick, Mitrovic booked for not going back the requisite 10 yards.

Nicely set up from Xhaka for Akanji who whipped it around the wall into the side-netting. A few Switzerland in the opposite stand thought that was in for a second.

08:41 PM

81 minutes

Xhaka using all his wisdom to put his body in between opponent and ball to win a foul on halfway. No sooner than coming on, Grujic has been forced off because of a gash on his cheek. Clash of heads with Xhaka in the air.

Switzerland have won a free-kick just outside the edge of the area. Could this be the clincher?

08:38 PM

78 minutes

Serbia making another couple of changes: Grujic and Radonjic on for Tadic and Zivkovic.

There has been a message on the stadium PA system asking supporters to refrain from offensive gestures.

08:37 PM

76 minutes

We have seen some crazy finishes in the last few days but, famous last words, this does not look like being one of them. Switzerland have a lid on this and Serbia look dispirited. Jovic with a foul in the Swiss box and a few more seconds tick by.

08:33 PM

74 minutes

Switzerland content to try and soak up pressure and pick Serbia off on the counter. They have tightened up defensively after half time, Kostic has not had the same influence down the left flank. It also think Switzerland manager Murat Yakin has used his subs well with Zakaria coming on to support Xhaka in midfield.

08:31 PM

70 minutes

Mitrovic penalised for a push on Schar as he tries to win another header in the box. Then the striker has a shot from distance charged down, and Embolo helps move Switzerland up the pitch.

08:28 PM

68 minutes

Switzerland will be pleased to see Milinkovic-Savic walking off the pitch as a substitute. He has shown his class in all three games, although has been pinned in a more restrained midfield role today to squeeze the two strikers in.

Switzerland also making changes: Sow and Shaqiri off, Zakaria and Fernandes on. The game is slowed down and broken up which works against Serbia.

Boos and whistles for Shaqiri as he dawdles off.

08:26 PM

66 minutes

Appeals for a penalty from Mitrovic and Serbia after the striker got the wrong side of Schar in the area. The Swiss defender was in a spot of bother, but despite brushing Mitrovic's shoulder with his hand there was not enough in that. Right decision by the referee to say no pen.

There is now some shenanigans from the Serbia bench, subs on the pitch and all, about how the game restarts. They have wasted a couple of minutes of their own time there, although as we know it will be added on in full.

08:23 PM

62 minutes

The feeling I'm getting is that Serbia need a goal within the next 10 minutes of so or else belief might begin to ebb away. Switzerland are not young pups either, they know how to manage these games and be functional.

As I say that, Rodriguez throws the ball straight to Mitrovic, and Kostic has the chance to deliver another cross but the goalkeeper pounces on it.

08:20 PM

Thom Gibbs' view from the stadium on a thriller

What was I saying about no one having this game circled on their wallcharts? Fools!

That is surely one of the goals of the tournament so far, the sort of optimistic chip you often see in similar positions which, 95% of the time, falls in the category of "nice idea" which loses position. The flick from Vargas a thing of beauty, but the wrong-footer of a finish from Freuler possibly better than both.

Am primed to look out for any politically-motivated celebrating this evening, but that did not look like the double eagle which caused such a ruckus in 2018. Instead it looked like thumbs and little fingers out from Freuler, which a quick Wikipedia informs me is a Shaka (NB, not Xhaka) sign - "sometimes known as "hang loose" or "right on", is a gesture with friendly intent often associated with Hawaii and surf culture."

Turns out Switzerland is absolutely mad for surfing.

 Remo Freuler of Switzerland celebrates after scoring - GETTY IMAGES
Remo Freuler of Switzerland celebrates after scoring - GETTY IMAGES

08:18 PM

58 minutes

It looked like Embolo had missed a sitter from the second-phase of a Switzerland free-kick but the flag would have gone up for offside.

At the other end, Serbia take a short free-kick and Kostic whipped in a glorious delivery across the face of goal but no player could get a touch.

08:16 PM

55 minutes

Serbia backing a double change with Vlahovic off for Jovic. A slight shame for neutrals that Serbia did not opt to go with three strikers for the remainder of the game.

08:13 PM

53 minutes

Embolo was the player who fouled Pavlovic, but the striker came off the worst. His leg buckled but he looks like he will be fit to carry on. Then Xhaka is penalised, stretching to challenge Tadic in midfield but he avoids a booking.

08:11 PM

50 minutes

Serbia just have not been able to cope defensively, Switzeland have pulled them apart like shredded duck whenever they get around the box. Switzerland just need to keep their discipline and avoid any mistakes or cards.

08:09 PM

GOOOOAAAALLL! Switzerland back in front

He has been a very frustrating, and let's be honest work-shy, player through his career, but Shaqiri is involved again. He chips a cross into the run of Vargas, who shows 360-degree vision to pick out Freuler eight yards out and the midfielder did the rest. Serbia now need two.

Remo Freuler of Switzerland (R) celebrates scoring the 3-2 - SHUTTERSTOCK
Remo Freuler of Switzerland (R) celebrates scoring the 3-2 - SHUTTERSTOCK

08:07 PM

47 minutes

Milenkovic-Savic shown a yellow card for a late challenge on Xhaka, who made sure the referee took note with a few extra rolls. Regardless, an obvious booking.

08:06 PM

We're back under way

More of the same, please.

08:02 PM

Vlahovic's celebration...

Looks in response to rumours (which he categorically denied in a press conference) of sleeping with a team-mate's wife. It's that or he just really needed the toilet.

Serbia's Dusan Vlahovic, left, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal - AP
Serbia's Dusan Vlahovic, left, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal - AP

08:01 PM

Who will be the Beckham figure in the second half?

I think Xhaka is no longer the most likely candidate, but could be proven wrong.

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07:55 PM

Dragan Stojković...

They say Serbia's manager is an idealist who wants to attack at all costs, and he has been true to his word in the last few games. He has not read the international tournament instruction manual, clearly, but is is great fun.

07:50 PM

HT: Serbia 2 Switzerland 2

Make sense of that. Hard to know who will be encouraged by the first 45 minutes.

Serbia can feel confident the goals that they need to win this game are out there, but they have swung open like a rusty gate defensively.

Switzerland have looked like scoring with almost every attack, but have had trouble dealing with Kostic's flank and every cross towards Mitrovic and Vlahovic is a problem.

Football being football, is this one of those games that produces a goalless second-half once both teams sort themselves out?

07:47 PM

Three minutes of added time

Room for one more goal?

07:46 PM

GOOOAAAALLL! Embolo strikes back for Switzerland

Business up front, party at the back is the policy in this game. Widmer has had a torrid at right-back for Switzerland, but he was found in oceans of space on the flank there, and fed a cross behind the Serbian defence to present Embolo with a chance he could not miss. Switzerland safe as things stand.

Breel Embolo of Switzerland scores the team's second goal past Vanja Milinkovic-Savic - GETTY IMAGES
Breel Embolo of Switzerland scores the team's second goal past Vanja Milinkovic-Savic - GETTY IMAGES

07:43 PM

Watch: Vlahovic's goal

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07:43 PM

41 minutes

Serbia have just dialled things back since hitting the front, looking to defend in their shape and let Switzerland have the ball. Embolo with some nice hold-up play on the edge of the box but his lay-off was not quite right for Xhaka. Switzerland still finding it quite easy to reach the final third.

07:40 PM

39 minutes

Switzerland mount another dangerous attack, and a fierce shot from Freuler was charged down. Serbia go long to Mitrovic and it gains them territory. Tadic thought he had done enough to win a corner but goal kick given.

07:37 PM

GOOOAAAALLL! Vlahovic puts Serbia in front

That was a really poor goal for Switzerland to concede but a brilliant finish from Vlahovic. Shaqiri with a loose pass in the first place, Switzerland looked to have recovered but Freuler did not get enough on his interception. The ball ran free to Vlahovic, who took the shot early across goal into the bottom corner. Serbia through as it stands!

Dusan Vlahovic of Serbia scores the team’s second goal - Getty Images
Dusan Vlahovic of Serbia scores the team’s second goal - Getty Images

07:35 PM

33 minutes

Serbia continue to get joy down their left, this will need to be tightened up by the Swiss at half time. Vargas is then booked for a lunging tackle. He can have no complaints.

07:33 PM

Watch: Shaqiri's goal

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07:32 PM

31 minutes

Shaqiri misses a presentable chance for his second! Milenkovic was playing him onside, two yards deeper than his defensive line, and Rodriguez picked out Shaqiri with a raking pass. Shaqiri tried to toe-poke one past the goalkeeper but it ran wide of the near post.

07:30 PM

29 minutes

Freuler wins a free-kick in midfield for the Swiss, atoning for an error shortly after giving the ball away. This game has been like basketball, and it is hard to say who that suits. It is certainly more entertaining than most Switzerland games, but that might be their undoing.

07:29 PM

Thom Gibbs' view from the stadium

I know it has been remarked upon before at this tournament, but it bears repeating: there are a truly depressing number of empty seats here this evening. Admittedly no one had this match circled on their wall-chart as a must-watch but if you can't shift more than 70 per cent of the tickets for a World Cup match something has gone wrong. Beginning to think Qatar isn't the home of football after all.

Odd game so far, Serbia a team of large adult sons who have been obliterating Switzerland down both flanks but look like conceding every time Switzerland get it into the final third.

Also enjoying the fact that 6'9" goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic is wearing tracksuit trousers. Bold move at Stadium 974, the only one of the eight World Cup venues without air conditioning.

07:28 PM

GOOOOAAAALLL! Mitrovic equalises

We did say there were more goals on the way! Switzerland suddenly found themselves light on numbers at the back, with Tadic in too much time and space. He clipped a cross on to the head of Mitrovic, and it is a quite brilliant glancing header across goal into the far corner. No chance for the goalkeeper. Game on.

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07:26 PM

25 minutes

Serbia certainly look like they can score goals, but they look incredibly open at the back and vulnerable to pace on the break. Switzerland have a couple of forwards in Vargas and Embolo who can shift.

07:23 PM

22 minutes

Xhaka had a fairly tame shot from the edge of the area straight at the goalkeeper. That would have doubled the pain for Serbia fans in the stadium. A really absorbing watch so far, there are more goals in this.

07:22 PM

GOOOOAAAALL! Shaqiri opens the scoring

More whistles from the Serbia fans and Shaqiri will have enjoyed that one.

It was only a matter of time before this game produced a goal. Rodriguez running into acres of space down the left, his ball across the area was only clear as far as Sow on the penalty spot. Rather than slash at a first-time shot, he kept his head and squared it for Shaqiri who fired home a shot at the near post.

Xherdan Shaqiri of Switzerland scores the team's first goal - GETTY IMAGES
Xherdan Shaqiri of Switzerland scores the team's first goal - GETTY IMAGES

07:20 PM

19 minutes

The combination of Kostic and Tadic drifting over to the left is causing Switzerland real problems. Widmer is on a booking and struggling against Kostic, and Shaqiri is not offering much defensive cupboard.

07:18 PM

17 minutes

True to the pattern of this game, it has see-sawed back in Serbia's direction. Switzerland had to defend a couple of set-piece deliveries, but they won the first header on both occasions. Jinking feet from Tadic looked like opening up Switzerland but a white shirt intercepted his pass in the penalty area. Switzerland had everyone back there, under some pressure.

07:15 PM

14 minutes

This has been one of the most open games of the tournament so far, this time it was Switzerland throwing a counter-punch. Vargas causing problems down their left, and he picked out the run of Shaqiri with the pull-back but his shot from the penalty spot was blocked.

Serbia go down the other end, and Switzerland right-back Widmer is booked for a foul on Tadic.

07:12 PM

11 minutes

Serbia hit the post! That was really fluid football, with the wing-back Zivkovic running through in more of a narrow position inside right. He unleashed a shot across goal that cannoned off the post, and the rebound hit Mitrovic and back into the arms of reserve goalkeeper Kobel. The striker just had no time to react.

Serbia's Andrija Zivkovic reacts after shooting at goal and hitting the post - REUTERS
Serbia's Andrija Zivkovic reacts after shooting at goal and hitting the post - REUTERS

07:10 PM

9 minutes

Switzerland will be fairly pleased with how the game is shaping up, but there was an anxious moment as Widmer tried to usher the ball behind but Serbia kept it alive in the box. The ball bounced out for a Switzerland goal kick.

07:08 PM

7 minutes

Maybe a few nerves in both defences in the early exchanges, as Vargas sniffs around for a mistake in the Serbia backline. Switzerland enjoy possession down their left through Xhaka and Rodriguez, but the cross was too close to V Milinkovic-Savic in the Serbia goal. Some whistles from Serbian fans for Xherdan Shaqiri.

07:05 PM

4 minutes

It is a bit strange watching Switzerland in white and Serbia in red. Serbia have settled down on the ball with Tadic getting some early touches. Milinkovic-Savic pings a diagonal out to the left, and Kostic's cross was dangerous but Akanji did well to head away. Serbia keep the pressure on and win a corner. This is a strong response from them.

They load up the penalty with some big bodies, and Milenkovic headed into the turf and not far wide.

07:03 PM

2 minutes

That was very nearly the dream start with Switzerland, clipping a long ball down the right. It was nice interplay around the box and it fell for Embolo, who saw his close-range shot saved, before Xhaka saw one shot blocked and another saved from the edge of the box. They probably only need a point but Switzerland have flown out of the traps.

Switzerland's Breel Embolo, right, tries to score during the World Cup group G soccer match between Serbia and Switzerland - AP
Switzerland's Breel Embolo, right, tries to score during the World Cup group G soccer match between Serbia and Switzerland - AP

07:01 PM

KICK OFF!

Switzerland kick us off, playing all in white.

06:55 PM

The two teams are out

The Serbian national anthem comes first. Could the simplicity of their task - knowing they need to win - work in their favour?

06:55 PM

Vlahovic gets his chance

It will be interesting to see how Vlahovic and Mitrovic operate as a strike pairing, you do not see many teams play with two physical centre-forwards in the modern game. A big test for Switzerland centre-backs Manuel Akanji and Fabian Schar.

Dusan Vlahovic warms up before the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match - AFP
Dusan Vlahovic warms up before the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match - AFP

06:48 PM

A big night for Granit Xhaka

Xhaka has matured a lot as a player over the last two to three years, especially since Mikel Arteta took over at Arsenal and his more structured football proved to Xhaka's liking. Since moving into a more advanced role 12 months ago, his club form has gone to another level again. For Switzerland, he will be asked to be more disciplined in a deeper midfield position.

Switzerland's Remo Freuler, Breel Embolo and Granit Xhaka - annah Mckay/REUTERS
Switzerland's Remo Freuler, Breel Embolo and Granit Xhaka - annah Mckay/REUTERS

06:38 PM

A reminder of the permutations

Brazil lead the group on six points and have already qualified after their second consecutive win, against Switzerland. A draw or a win would see them go through as group winners.

A win for Switzerland, who are second on three points, against Serbia would see them also qualify, though a point would also be enough if Cameroon failed to beat Brazil. A point might also be enough if Cameroon beat Brazil but by only a goal as they would be level on points and goal difference, so the tie-breaker would be on goals scored. Switzerland currently have one goal to their name and Cameroon have three, so that means that Switzerland would need to draw at least 4-4 for that to be a possibility. If Switzerland lose, they are out.

Cameroon and Serbia, on one point each, both need to win to stand any chance of going through, with the other result going their way.

06:38 PM

Serbia's players go through their paces

Serbia players during the warm up before the match - REUTERS
Serbia players during the warm up before the match - REUTERS

06:09 PM

Now you know the teams...

Who do you fancy to emerge victorious? I think most people are anticipating a very close game.

06:07 PM

Further team news

Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic has opted to start two strikers with both Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic leading the line.

With just one point from their first two games, Serbia must win to stand any chance of qualifying for the knockout stages and Stojkovic has handed Vlahovic his first start of the tournament.

Breel Embolo, Switzerland's only goal scorer at the tournament so far, starts up front again while midfielders Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri also start. Both players scored in Switzerland's comeback win over Serbia in the 2018 tournament.

Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer misses out, however, after the Borussia Moenchengladbach player fell ill.

06:06 PM

The two teams: Serbia start both Vlahovic and Mitrovic

Serbia: Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, Nikola Milenkovic, Milos Veljkovic, Strahinja Pavlovic, Andrija Zivkovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Sasa Lukic, Filip Kostic, Dusan Vlahovic, Dusan Tadic, Aleksandar Mitrovic

Switzerland: Gregor Kobel, Silvan Widmer, Manuel Akanji, Fabian Schaer, Remo Freuler, Granit Xhaka, Ricardo Rodriguez, Djibril Sow, Xherdan Shaqiri, Breel Embolo, Ruben Vargas

06:05 PM

Serbia vs Switzerland one of the World Cup's most charged fixtures

By Sam Dean

In one of the most controversial sporting tournaments in modern history, another uncomfortable evening awaits for those who wish to keep politics separate from sport. Serbia versus Switzerland might not be the most obvious grudge match, but it is a grudge match all the same — and potentially one of the most hotly-contested games of this World Cup.

Four years ago, at the World Cup in 2018, it was Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri who triggered the fallout. Both players scored for Switzerland against Serbia, and they both celebrated by making a “double-eagle” celebration, a nationalist symbol representing the double-headed eagle on Albania’s national flag.

Shaqiri was born in Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 (Serbia does not recognise its independence, and relations remain tense). Xhaka, meanwhile, was born in Switzerland to Kosovan parents of Albanian heritage, and his father was arrested and beaten for protesting in favour of Kosovo’s independence. Xhaka’s brother, Taulant, made 31 appearances for Albania.

Xhaka and Shaqiri were each fined 10,000 Swiss francs (£7,632) for “unsporting behaviour” in 2018, and both players apologised. Xhaka has vowed that such an episode will never happen again.

Granit Xhaka of Switzerland celebrates scoring a goal - Getty Images
Granit Xhaka of Switzerland celebrates scoring a goal - Getty Images

But that is not to say that these issues are no longer present. Last week, Fifa opened disciplinary proceedings against Serbia’s football association after the team hung a flag depicting Kosovo in their dressing room. The flag showed an outline of Kosovo as part of Serbia and the words “no surrender”.

The Football Federation of Kosovo submitted a complaint to Fifa, demanding that Serbia be punished for “this aggressive action”. Hajrulla Ceku, Kosovo’s minister of culture, youth and sport, said on Twitter: “Disgraceful images from Serbia’s locker room, displaying hateful, xenophobic and genocidal messages.”

Also last week, away from football, the European Union warned that violence could break out in Kosovo due to a dispute over Serbian car number plates. Serbia's President, Aleksandar Vucic, said the situation was "on the verge of conflict".

Murat Yakin, the Switzerland coach, was keen to play down the political elements of Friday’s match. “We have discussed this many times,” he said. “We are happy to focus on football tomorrow and respect each other.

"Since April the Swiss FA, the president and the general secretary all came to an agreement that we are only talking about sport here, and this also applies to the players. We respect the players, and they also are respectful.

"It is all about football tomorrow and this is what is going to matter. We are ready and mature enough to just play football. We want to make our nation proud and happy, and we will ignore the rest. We will meet the challenge.”

On the pitch, Serbia and Switzerland are both battling for a place in the knockout stages. Switzerland are currently second with three points in Group G, behind Brazil. Serbia have only one point, and therefore need to win at Stadium 974 if they are to progress to the knockout stages.