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Serbia-Switzerland, the party of the Balkan conflict in the World Cup

Shaqiri celebrates the winning goal against Serbia with the eagle gesture. Gonzalo Fuentes

There are still games to be held in the World Cup with political derivatives. The decisive Serbia-Switzerland this Friday (8:00 p.m.) that closes group G bleeds from the wound of the Balkan war. It was already played in the first phase of Russia 2018, and left a lot of conflict and controversy. Now, Qatar is facing these two teams again and the noise started a few days ago.

Everything exploded in Kaliningrad, at the Arena Baltika, four years ago. Mitrovic put the Serbs ahead early, and Xhaka and Shaqiri came back from time limit for the Swiss (1-2). The celebrations of both were quite a political manifestation. The two made the gesture of the eagle, symbol of the Albanian flag, with their arms. In Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared itself independent in 2008 (half the UN countries have recognized it, not Spain), the majority of inhabitants are ethnic Albanians. The detail angered the squad and the Serbian authorities, and made Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, explode with joy, where they were considered heroes.

The lives of Xhaka and Shaqiri, who are also competing in this World Cup with the Swiss jersey, cannot be understood without the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. The two families ended up in Central Europe fleeing from the bombs. The first, 30 years old and Kosovar Albanian parents, was born in Basel, where his mother (Rapig) had come to get away from death. He chose Switzerland to play in national team soccer while his brother Taulant enlisted with Albania.

The second, 31 and also of Kosovar Albanian parents, lived his first four years in Kosovo, until he left for the Swiss country. That summer afternoon in Russia, on his boots he displayed the flags of Switzerland and Kosovo. A few years before, even, in a match between Albania and Switzerland, he stamped the symbols of Switzerland, Kosovo and Albania, a Solomonic decision that was not understood by everyone in his host land.

“It was not easy for my family. My father did not speak the language and he had to start washing dishes in a restaurant. I feel like I have two homes. Switzerland gave everything to my family and I try to give everything for the national team. But every time I go to Kosovo I have the feeling of being at home. It’s a feeling,” Shaqiri confessed before the 2018 World Cup duel to the web Player’s Tribune. Later, on the controversial celebration (he scored the winning goal in 90), he did not expand so much. “I’d rather not talk about it. It was for my people, who have always supported me, and for my parents,” he said.

Both were fined by FIFA with 10,000 euros for “unsportsmanlike behavior” and now the focus is once again on them in the reissue of a clash with a political crumb. They are not exactly two secondaries in the Swiss squad. Shaqiri, a Chicago attacker after passing through Bayern, Inter, Liverpool and Lyon, is the third most capped with that shirt (110, with 26 goals); while Xhaka, since 2016 at Arsenal, is fourth in that section (109 duels and 12 goals). Main protagonists in the team led by Murat Yakin, the former missed the previous match, against Brazil, due to muscular problems.

Flag that Serbia hung in the locker room where the map of the country appears, with Kosovo between its limits.
Flag that Serbia hung in the locker room where the map of the country appears, with Kosovo between its limits.

The precedents raised the alarm as soon as the draw came out, but the last few days have also helped to raise the tension because Serbia, before its first match in the tournament, hung a flag in its locker room in which Kosovo appeared as part of the country, accompanied by the legend: “There will be no surrender (Nema pradaje)”. FIFA opened a file for him (Kosovo joined the international federation in 2016).

And if something was missing, the meeting is not a sports halt. The two teams have options to accompany the Canarinha to eighths. Switzerland, with three points, depends on itself: a victory gives them the pass and a draw is also worth it if Cameroon does not defeat Brazil. Serbia (one point) depends on third parties, but they don’t need the impossible either: they must beat Switzerland and hope that Cameroon doesn’t beat the South Americans.

After the commotion around teams like Iran, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, among others, due to internal political affairs and messages in defense of human rights in a State like Qatar, this Serbia-Switzerland appears, delving into the scars of the nineties in Europe.

Source : Morning Express