Switzerland and Serbia have got history. Their clash to decide who went into the last 16 of the World Cup in Doha was always going boil over.
The story is a complicated one. All eyes were on Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka in the rematch of the ill-tempered 2018 World Cup tussle between the two nations, when both players celebrated the last-gasp success by making an eagle gesture, pointing to their Albanian heritage but mainly to antagonise Serbians, who consider Kosovo, where there is an Albanian majority, as a Serbian province still.
It is a complex relationship between two countries you would not expect to have such animosity. While there were no repeat of the eagle gestures, there was still plenty to grab the headlines away from the football, despite Switzerland edging a five-goal thriller.
“The dressing room is great, we can only be successful as a group when we are together, and that is something we have showed as a group in past tournaments,” Newcastle’s Swiss defender Fabian Schar said. “Otherwise it is difficult, we showed we have a good character.
“Obviously we knew after the last World Cup that there would be a lot of emotions in this game, but we have to have a cool head, and we showed we were a little bit more clever in the head, maybe that is a small detail that helps us win the game.”
Shaqiri – it had to be him – opened the scoring, celebrating in front of the Serbia fans, pointing to his name on the back of his shirt and shushing towards the crowd.
Things really escalated in the second half, with tackles flying in as the crowd started to clash with one another. Next to the press box, one small group were ejected, for what remains unclear. Fifa said they will not comment until more information is available.
The stadium announcer had to warn supporters to stop making discriminatory chats during the second half, while tempers really boiled over at the end of the encounter.
It was alleged that Xhaka grabbed his crotch at one point to try spark a reaction from Serbia players in regards to rumours that Dusan Vlahovic was having an affair with a Serbia teammate’s wife. The provocation worked.
Even the Serbia bench got involved in the mass brawl in stoppage time, with Xhaka grabbed by the throat by goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic. Both players were booked, two of 11 yellow cards in the match, and it appeared that the referee, Fernando Rapallini, missed a possible headbutt by Denis Zakaria. Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic got involved for good measure.
“I saw Granit fully focused on football and he performed very well,” Murat Yakin said. “I saw players from Servbia crossing the lines and some tried to calm them down. Emotions are involved, overall we stayed in control.”
The inquest, however, will continue.