A majority of the pre-match chat was dominated by Xherdan Shaqiri’s custom-Nike Mercurial boots that had a stitched Kosovo flag on the right heel, adding fuel to a highly tense political dispute between Serbia and their Southeastern European counterparts as the central narrative aside from the contest on Friday. Naturally, all eyes were on the Stoke City Wideman after igniting public Provokacjia(provocation) in the Serbian media in such an unabashed manner.
Shaqiri put the qualms of fans, experts and doubters alike to bed with a sensational injury time-winner in which The White Eagles decided to lay an offside trap in a bizarre fashion which led to the ex-Bayern Munich star clean through on goal and deftly nutmegging goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic.
The Swiss sensation’s celebration was as flamboyant as he was on the pitch, replicating Mario Balotelli’s shirtless flex in Euro 2012 and then proceeding to make a double-eagled gesture of the Albanian flag with his hands alongside fellow Kosovan Granit Xhaka.
The Arsenal midfielder had kickstarted the homage to Kosovo in the 52nd minute after scoring a thunderbolt from outside the box to level the scores, having only scored half of his goals from inside the area in national colours.
However, Switzerland’s eventual triumph was not a walk in the park with Serbia dominating proceedings in the first 45.
Mladen Krstajic’s men were living up to their “dark horses” tag by starting the game at Bugatti Chiron speed, with Luka Milivojevic whipping a dangerous delivery for Aleksandar Mitrovic to outjump and outmuscle Fabian Schar to power a header into Borussia Monchengladbach shot-stopper Yann Sommer’s path.
In a space of around 30 seconds from Switzerland’s first warning sign, Dusan Tadic twisted and turned around Left-Back Ricardo Rodriguez to deliver a probing ball for Mitrovic to leapfrog Schar to score a venomous header in the 5th minute and signal Serbian supremacy.
The on-loan Fulham frontman had continued his rich vein of form in Russia after a 12-goal campaign for the West London outfit, spearheading them into promotion into the 2018-19 Premier League season.
Utilizing his 6ft 2-inch frame to shackle the Swiss backline, Mitrovic was on sight to once head and then attempt an incredible overhead kick from Right-back Branislav Ivanovic’s tremendous delivery.
The Newcastle striker’s hold-up play was excellent, effectively linking play with the likes of Kostic and Tadic and proving to be a real headscratcher for Vladimir Petkovic to halt.
Switzerland’s left-hand side, in particular, was constantly under threat with the pairing of Ivanovic and Tadic tormenting Ricardo Rodriguez, with the latter darting past the Milan man on several occasions.
The Red Crosses, on the contrary, were constantly under the cosh with the likes of Blerim Dzemailli and Xherdan Shaqiri often coming deep to initiate a period of possession and combine to fashion an attempt at goal.
However, at the 30th-minute mark, a dinked through ball from Steven Zuber put Napoli’s Dzemailli in a one-on-one situation with Vladimir Stojkovic for the FK Partizan man to parry the ball into safety and cementing Serbia’s lead at half-time.
The second-half ensued and Shaqiri was a man possessed. The stocky forward bullied the likes of Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic with his electric burst of pace to take up central areas and feed the likes of Zuber and Gavranovic, who had replaced an isolate Haris Seferovic up top at the start of the second half.
Seven minutes into the final 45 and a brilliant block from Aleksandar Kolarov from a Shaqiri strike was into the path of Granit Xhaka who belted the ball past Stojkovic with his piledriver of a left foot to make it 1-1.
The former Basel anchor’s firecracker had put wind in the sails of the Swiss as “The Alpine Messi” had struck a ferocious shot from the left-hand side that clipped the post in the 58th minute.
Substitute Mario Gavranovic scuffed a defence-splitting pass from Shaqiri into the side-netting and Serbian backline that were so marauding in the first half were getting punished by Switzerland’s front four in fine fashion.
The introduction of prodigious striker Breel Embolo was a clear indication of Switzerland boss, Vladimir Petkovic smelling blood by converting a 4-2-3-1 setup into a more direct 4-4-2 formation with two men up front. However, this move should not be misconstrued as throwing the kitchen sink at a match where Los Pulitos had clearly established dominion.
Embolo repaid his manager’s faith by proving to be a real handful from the outset, making dangerous runs behind the Serbian back four and functioning as a threatening outlet.
However, the game turned on its head when a Gavranovic through ball gave Xherdan Shaqiri the golden chance to put the game to bed and so he did by guiding the ball under Stojkovic’s legs and breaking Serbian hearts with one strike of the ball with centre-half Kosic simply struggling to catch up with the Swiss winger’s unstoppable dash.
The win catapults Switzerland to four points from two games with a win required against eliminated Costa Rica, with Serbia needing a triumph over favourites Brazil to reach the round of 16.
With only two World Cup goals behind Josef Hugi(6 goals), regardless of The White Crosses’ fate in Russia, Xherdan Shaqiri is forever going to be a Swiss legend.
Feature Image via Guardian
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