Swiss players avoid suspensions for provocative World Cup celebrations, Serbia fined

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/xherdan-shaqiri" data-ylk="slk:Xherdan Shaqiri">Xherdan Shaqiri</a>’s goal celebration, which evoked the Albanian flag and some ugly geopolitical history, rankled Serbia at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)
Xherdan Shaqiri’s goal celebration, which evoked the Albanian flag and some ugly geopolitical history, rankled Serbia at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

Switzerland stars Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri will not be suspended for World Cup games for their provocative “Albanian eagle” celebrations in their team’s 2-1 win over Serbia.

FIFA announced Monday that both, along with teammate Stephan Lichtsteiner, would be fined, but would not be banned for Switzerland’s Group E decider against Costa Rica, nor for a potential Round of 16 match.

Serbia’s soccer federation, on the other hand, was fined more than twice as much as the three Swiss players combined for “discriminatory banners” displayed by fans – the second such offense during the 2018 World Cup.

The federation’s president was also fined for postgame comments critical of the match referee.

And, last but not least, Serbia’s manager, Mladen Krstajic, was fined for comparing the refereeing in his team’s 2-1 loss to the prosecution of Yugoslav war crimes at the International Court of Justice.

So, uh, yeah, a lot going on here. Let’s rewind …

2018 World Cup’s most political game

Xhaka’s and Shaqiri’s goals in a dramatic comeback win over Serbia on Friday were two of the most political goals in World Cup history.

The two players are of Kosovar Albanian heritage. Their families fled Yugoslavia amid oppression of ethnic Albanians by ethnic Serbs in Kosovo – now a country, formerly a region in southern Serbia bordering Albania that would eventually be ravaged by the bloody Yugoslav wars. Xhaka’s father was jailed and beaten as a college student for protesting Yugoslav rule in Kosovo. Shaqiri was born there, but moved to Switzerland as a baby.

They represent Switzerland in soccer, but in a game against the nation that turned their parents into refugees, they also represented Kosovo. So when they scored, they celebrated with the “Albanian eagle” gesture, a symbol used by ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to display resistance to Serbian/Yugoslav rule, and now a nod to their heritage.

Switzerland’s win over Serbia turned into a victory for Kosovo over Serbia as well. Kosovans celebrated in the streets of the capital. Xhaka referred to himself in a since-deleted Instagram story as “Granit Kosova.” So Serbs, understandably, were furious.

Serbian FA calls for punishment

Serbia’s soccer federation made the country’s anger official when it filed several complaints to FIFA. One pertained to Shaqiri’s boots – one of which has the Kosovo flag embroidered on the heel. Another pertained to the goal celebrations, and a third to “several controversial flags.”

Savo Milosevic, the federation’s president, also bemoaned a no-call on a potential penalty. 

“I understand the referee didn’t see it but that is why we have VAR,” Milosevic said, referencing FIFA’s video review system. “What are those guys doing up there? Do we need another four men up there, do we need 100 people to control VAR for something we can all see perfectly well? We are Serbia and nobody cares, that is all I can think of.”

Serbians – from fans to the federation – have adopted an us-against-the-world mentality. And there’s no better example of it than Krstajic’s postgame comments.

Serbia coach’s political comparison

The most absurd aspect of the fallout was an Instagram post from Krstajic, Serbia’s head coach. Krstajic was furious about that second-half no-call, when striker Aleksandar Mitrovic was hauled to the ground in the penalty box.

“Unfortunately, only the Serbs have been convicted of selective justice, once the damn Hague and today in football VAR …” Krstajic wrote in Serbian, roughly translated to English.


The post was pretty clearly a reference to the United Nations-established International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which was based in The Hague, Netherlands. That’s where various Serbian leaders and nationalists were convicted of war crimes committed during Yugoslav wars, including the conflict in Kosovo.

Krstajic appeared to intimate that Serbia’s national team was selectively and unfairly punished, just like Serbian leaders who were culpable for the deaths of hundreds, and in some cases thousands.

There was also apparently video of Krstajic explicitly saying the ref should be sent to The Hague. In that sense, FIFA’s fine seems lenient.

FIFA’s rulings

FIFA warned the three Swiss players, but ruled they hadn’t violated article 54 of the disciplinary code – “provoking the general public” – which would have called for a two-game suspension. Instead, they fined the players in accordance with article 57, finding them guilty of “offensive gestures or language.”

The biggest fine, given to Serbia’s federation, was for, among other things, signage that referenced Ratko Mladic, a former Serbian general convicted of war crimes.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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