Who: Switzerland vs Serbia, Group G
When: Friday, December 2, 10pm (19:00 GMT)
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Where: Stadium 974
FIFA rankings: Switzerland (15), Serbia (21)
Switzerland and Serbia will battle for Group G’s last spot in the knockout stage on Friday in a rematch of their 2018 World Cup clash where political tensions clouded a closely fought contest.
Switzerland, on three points, look well-placed to join Brazil in the last 16. A win over Serbia would guarantee them a spot in the next stage, while a draw would also be enough unless Cameroon pull off an upset win against Brazil, which would mean goal difference would be a determining factor.
Serbia have a much tougher route to the knockout stage. They must beat Switzerland by a significant goal margin, and then pray for a very precise outcome from the Cameroon-Brazil game — a win for Cameroon but by a narrow margin so Serbia have a better goal difference than the African side.
Yet such permutations will not be the only source of tension when the Swiss and Serbs meet. They have played each other only once, in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup. That match remains etched in the memory of fans as one with heavy political undertones.
Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka, born in Basel to ethnic Albanian parents from Kosovo, celebrated his goal against Serbia by forming a double-headed eagle with his hands, an Albanian nationalist symbol that can be found on Albania’s flag.
Xherdan Shaqiri – born in Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 – added another Swiss goal and replicated Xhaka’s celebration in the 2-1 group stage win, infuriating the Serbian side and prompting world football governing body FIFA to fine both players for unsporting behaviour.
Shaqiri, who did not play in Switzerland’s 0-1 loss to Brazil on Monday due to a muscle strain but is expected to return against Serbia, said in reference to the 2018 match that the Swiss were in Qatar to play football. Xhaka is also a key member of the Swiss team in Qatar.
Controversy over Kosovo has already shadowed Serbia at this World Cup, with FIFA opening proceedings against the nation’s football association after a flag which showed Kosovo as part of their country was allegedly hung in the dressing room when they faced Brazil.
The Football Federation of Kosovo, which became a member of European football’s governing body UEFA and FIFA in 2016, decried the “aggressive action” undertaken by Serbia.
When Switzerland and Serbia kick off on Friday, watch for goals. But also keep an eye out for the celebrations.