Switzerland's Xhaka and Shaqiri charged by Fifa over Serbia goal celebrations

  • Players celebrated with Albanian nationalist gesture
  • Serbia coach also charged for post-match comments

Fifa has opened disciplinary proceedings against Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri after they celebrated their goals during a 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad by performing an Albanian nationalist symbol.

Xhaka and Shaqiri, who are of Albanian-Kosovan heritage but were raised in Switzerland, put their hands together to form what looked like a double-headed eagle similar to the one on the Albanian flag. The gestures risked inflaming political tensions in the Balkans among Serbian nationalists and ethnic Albanians. Kosovo is a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

The Serbian FA lodged a formal complaint on Saturday, with football’s governing body later confirming that Arsenal’s Xhaka and Shaqiri of Stoke are both under investigation. A preliminary investigation has also begun into alleged comments made by the Serbia coach, Mladen Krstajic, after the match, while disciplinary proceedings have also been opened against the Serbian FA “for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages.”

Shaqiri, who was born in Kosovo, played with the Kosovan flag stitched to one boot and the Swiss flag stitched on the other. Xhaka’s parents are from Kosovo and are of Albanian heritage. The Arsenal midfielder’s father was imprisoned and beaten in the former Yugoslavia for campaigning in favour of Kosovan independence and his brother Taulant plays for Albania’s national team.

Jovan Surbatovic, the secretary general of the Serbian FA, had earlier said he would write to world football’s governing body regarding “the case of the boots, a question of several controversial flags and the celebration of both goals for Switzerland”.

Fifa rules do not directly contemplate punishment for showing a national flag but, according to its disciplinary code, sanctions can be handed out for “provoking the general public”. If found guilty, players can be banned for up to two games. Fifa was approached for comment but has not responded. Xhaka and Shaqiri have suggested their actions were not provocative.

“Frankly, my opponents did not interest me at all,” Xhaka said. “It was for my people, who always supported me. For those who did not neglect me, in my homeland, where my parents’ roots are. These were purely emotions.”

Shaqiri, who plays for Stoke City, admitted that he was not allowed to talk about “politics” and insisted the celebration was “just emotion”. As he went through the stadium’s mixed zone he grew irritated at the questioning, replying “let’s not talk about this” and walking out when again asked what the significance of the celebration was.

Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates scoring his late winner.
Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates scoring his late winner. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

“It was a fantastic goal, an important goal for my team and I am very proud I was able to score it for them,” Shaqiri said. “I can’t discuss the gesture I’m afraid. We are footballers, not politicians… Emotions sometimes take over footballers and there was a lot of emotion out there.”

He acknowledged it was “a very special game for some players”. Among the Switzerland team that started against Serbia, Valon Behrami is also of Kosovan heritage.

Those players had been whistled by a crowd in which it appeared most Russians in the stadium supported Serbia. There were chants of “Serbia-Russia! Serbia-Russia” and a banner declared the two countries “brothers”.

After the match, Switzerland’s coach, Vladimir Petkovic, said: “It’s clear that emotions show up and that’s how things happen. I think we all together need to steer away from politics in football and we should focus on this sport as a beautiful game and something that brings people together.”

Krstajic was less magnanimous when asked about the decision not to award a penalty to Aleksandar Mitrovic in the second half.

“We were robbed,” he said. “I wouldn’t give him either a yellow or red card, I would send him to the Hague. Then they could put him on trial, like they did to us.”

Krstajic also posted photographs from the match on his Instagram account, accompanied by the comment: “Unfortunately, it seems that only the Serbs are condemned to a selective justice, once (it was) the damned Hague and today in football the VAR...”

The Serbian press officer angrily intervened to prevent what he called “political” questions when Serbia’s Nemanja Matic was asked what he made of the celebration. He threatened to report journalists for doing so.

The buildup to the match had seen exchanges between Serbia players and Shaqiri. Mitrovic, who scored Serbia’s goal, asked: “If he loves Kosovo so much and decides to flaunt the flag, why did he refuse a chance to play for their team?”

Kosovans celebrate Xhaka’s goal as they watch the match in a pub in Pristina.
Kosovans celebrate Xhaka’s goal as they watch the match in a pub in Pristina. Photograph: Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images

There were a couple of clashes between the pair on the pitch too. At one point, Mitrovic leant forward to say something to Shaqiri when he was on the floor, covering his mouth with his hand as he did so. “I didn’t understand, maybe he spoke Serbian to me,” Shaqiri said. “I had told him already to keep calm and do his job… Of course the Serbian fans were whistling, that’s normal, no? We knew it was going to come but we kept calm. Both teams played with respect and that’s important.”


Sid Lowe in Kaliningrad

The GuardianTramp

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