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WORLD CUP

Swiss players may face discipline for pro-Kosovo World Cup celebrations

Fifa opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri on Saturday over their pro-Kosovo goal celebrations during the 2-1 win against Serbia.

Swiss players may face discipline for pro-Kosovo World Cup celebrations
Switzerland's forward Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates after winning the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match against Serbia. Photo: Patrick HERTZOG / AFP
READ LATEST STORY HERE – Swiss players escape World Cup ban 
 
Switzerland's scorers on Friday, Xhaka and Shaqiri, celed their goals by making a double eagle gesture with their hands to represent the Albanian flag.
 
Many people in Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority, identify with the flag. Both players trace their roots to Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that declared independence in 2008 in a move that Belgrade still refuses to recognise.
 
 
Fifa bans all political messages or symbols in stadiums. World football's governing body said it was also probing Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic for alleged statements made after the game.
 
Krstajic reacted to the defeat by calling for the match referee, Felix Brych of Germany, to be put on trial in a war crimes tribunal in the Hague for failing to award Serbia a penalty.
 
Serbia were furious when Brych failed to award a spot-kick in the 66th minute after Aleksandar Mitrovic was wrestled to the ground in the penalty area by Swiss defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schaer.
 
 
Disciplinary proceedings have also been opened against the Serbian football association for crowd disturbances and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans.
 
The Serbian press meanwhile called Shaqiri's goal celebration “shameful provocation”. 
 
The player said in a post-match interview his celebration was “just emotion” but added he was not allowed to talk about politics.
 
Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic indicated after the win that he was unimpressed by Shaqiri and Xhaka's celebrations.
 
“You should never mix politics and football,” he said. 
 
The Serbian football association had also reportedly complained to Fifa before the game about the Kosovo flag that adorned one of Shaqiri's boots.
 
“We sought that he change the boots. It was a provocation, we were playing against Switzerland, not Kosovo,” team official Jovan Surbatovic told Serbian state-run broadcaster RTS.
 
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, less then a decade after the 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian guerillas and Serb forces, but Belgrade — backed by its traditional ally Russia — still refuses to recognise the move.

WORLD CUP

Made in Switzerland, Croatia’s Rakitic on cusp of World Cup glory

Faced with a choice between Switzerland, where he was born, and Croatia, the homeland of his parents, Ivan Rakitic made a painstaking decision that will see the midfielder line up against France in Sunday's World Cup final.

Made in Switzerland, Croatia's Rakitic on cusp of World Cup glory
Photo: AFP

Swiss football is brimming with players of dual nationality such as former youth international Rakitic, whose loyalties are often divided between their adopted country and cherished homeland.

It even occurs in the same family, notably in the Xhaka household. Arsenal midfielder Granit plays for Switzerland while Taulant represents Albania, with the two on opposing sides at Euro 2016.

Rakitic was born in Rheinfelden, in the canton of Aargau, not far from Basel. He grew up in Mohlin, a small town of 11,000 people, where his father, fleeing the Yugoslav Wars, founded NK Pajde Mohlin in 1993, the club where Ivan started out.

He then joined FC Basel, before signing for Germany's Schalke aged just 19, all the while turning out for Switzerland's national teams at junior level.

“The potential was there, there was no discussion regarding the Swiss national teams. We fought for him to come,” former Switzerland Under-21 coach Bernard Challandes told AFP.

At the time, the rules were different and anyone who played an official match for a country at youth level could not switch nationalities as they can now.

“He has always been clear and explained that he hadn't yet made his decision, so we only picked him for friendlies,” explained Challandes, who was appointed coach of Kosovo earlier this year.

Rakitic eventually opted for Croatia, making his debut in September 2007. He has since taken part in three European Championships and two World Cups.

“I know where I came from. I grew up in Switzerland, I was proud to play for Switzerland at youth level,” Rakitic said recently in an interview with Swiss newspaper Le Temps.

“I've always said that I decided in favour of Croatia and not against Switzerland,” he said, adding that he first called Kobi Kuhn, the Swiss coach at the time, before contacting then Croatia boss Slaven Bilic.

A person described as “very calm, kind, easy-going and always happy”, the 30-year-old Rakitic, married to an Andalusian woman from his time at Sevilla, is “very poised and manages his career in a very intelligent way”, said Challandes.

“He's a player who has everything and nothing at the same time. He's not especially quick, not particularly strong physically, not a goalscorer.

“However, he does everything right, he's a kind of (Zinedine) Zidane who feels and sees everything before the others and is very strong technically.”

The Barcelona star, who scored in Croatia's 3-0 group-stage victory over Argentina, has been central in his country's run to the final even if he is unlikely to win many individual accolades.

“Since the start he's been what he is, an indispensable player but one who will never win the Ballon d'Or because he doesn't do bicycle kicks or other tricks,” said Challandes.

“He plays in a simple manner and people have sometimes struggled to see his importance. He plays his role wonderfully, he is one of the most important cogs.”

Rakitic and Real Madrid maestro Luka Modric will be crucial to their team's hopes of lifting the trophy in Moscow. However, fatigue could be a factor for Croatia after going to extra-time in three successive games.

“The key to the match is in the physical recovery,” said Challandes. “Are the Croats going to recover from their efforts, with a day's less rest?

“If it's the case, then the outcome may be determined by outstanding players such as Rakitic, Modric and (Ivan) Perisic but also (Kylian) Mbappe and (Antoine) Griezmann.”

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