KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW: FIFA has launched disciplinary action over the World Cup clash between Switzerland and Serbia including the ‘double eagle’ goal celebrations of Swiss stars Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri as well as captain Stephan Lichtsteiner.
The gesture is considered a nationalist symbol representing the double headed eagle on Albania’s national flag and had been considered provocative in Belgrade because of the Kosovo issue. The players face a minimum two-game ban and fine for provocation of fans.
Some Serb fans had booed the Swiss players with Kosovar/Albanian family backgrounds before and during the game in Kaliningrad.
A statement from the world federation said: “The FIFA disciplinary committee has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for their goal celebration during the match Switzerland v Serbia.”
But that was not all in the fall-out from the Group E match which saw Switzerland recover from 1-0 down to win 2-1 with second-half goals from the Arsenal and Stoke City players.
FIFA added: “In relation to the same match, disciplinary proceedings have been opened against the Serbian FA for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans.
“Furthermore, a preliminary investigation has been opened against the coach of the Serbian national team Mladen Krstajic for alleged statements made in the aftermath of the said match.”
Later FIFA extended its disciplinary action against Lichtsteiner and against Serb federation president Slavisa Kokeza. After the game Lichsteiner had said: “I understand them. I think it’s normal, it’s part of their life. There was also big provocation ahead of the game from them [Serbia], so I think it’s normal.”
Media outlets in both countries had described the gestures as lacking political responsibility.
Many Kosovar Albanian families fled the country amid fighting with Serbia after Kosovo declared independence in 2008. Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo and has opposed its every attempt to obtain international recognition.
The families of Xhaka and Shaqiri are both from Kosovo. Shaqiri was born in Kosovo and his family fled to Switzerland as refugees. Xhaka’s father spent three-and-a-half years as a political prisoner in the former Yugoslavia over his support for Kosovar independence.
Two years ago Serbia, supported by Switzerland whose national team has beefited from the assimilation of Kosovo/Albanians, sought in vain to prevent Kosovo being granted membership of both FIFA and of European federation UEFA.
Shaqiri wears boots displaying the Swiss flag on one heel and the Kosovan flag on the other. This has prompted Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic to say: “If he loves Kosovo so much and decides to flaunt the flag, why did he refuse a chance to play for their team?”
After the match Shaqiri sought to downplay his celebration, saying: “It’s just emotion. I’m very happy to score this goal. It’s not more. I think we don’t have to speak about this now.”
Swiss manager Vladimir Petkovic said: “You should never mix football and politics.” Serbia manager Krstajic refused to comment. Both men come originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina, another of the states to emerge from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
Serb media reported that, after the match, the football association had registered complaints with FIFA over the referee’s failure to award a penalty when Mitrovic was apparently wrestled to the ground by two Swiss players, about Shaqiri’s boots, the goal celebrations and Albanian flags in the stands.
Kokeza, the 41-year-old president of the Serb federation, attacked FIFA for appointing a German referee in highly-considered Felix Brych to control the match.
Kokeza told the BBC: “We all know too well that more than half of Switzerland’s population is German. Technical staff, players, people in Serbia, they are all disappointed and frustrated because of injustice some people at FIFA came up with.
“It is clear to Europe and the world that Serbia was brutally robbed. I do not expect FIFA to take action in order for this brutal robbery not to happen again, because, I repeat, it was all directed.”
In 2014 a match between the Balkan nations was abandoned after a drone carrying an Albanian flag sparked a brawl. Ordinary Albanian fans had been banned from attending the game.