By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Goals by ethnic Albanians Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka led Switzerland to a 2-1 victory over Serbia, dashing the Balkan squad’s hope of quickly clinching a place in the next round in the World Cup.
Shaqiri’s goal came in the 90th minute in the rain in Kaliningrad on June 22 and allowed Switzerland to move to the top of Group E along with Brazil, both with four points.
Serbia remained with three points and still has a chance to advance when it faces Brazil on June 27. Switzerland will meet lowly Costa Rica on the same day.
Aleksandar Mitrovic had given Serbia an early lead with a powerful header in the fifth minute before Xhaka equalized in the 52nd minute with powerful left-footed shot through a crowded penalty area.
Shaqiri was born in Kosovo, while Xhaka was born in Switzerland to ethnic-Albanian parents originally from Kursumlija, Serbia.
Switzerland had a strong contingent of players with Albanian or Kosovar backgrounds — including Shaqiri, Xhaka, Valon Behrami, and Blerim Dzemaili.
Kosovo was a former Serbian province with an ethnic-Albanian majority that declared independence in 2008, a move that is not recognized by Belgrade, and relations between the two countries remain tense.
During the 1998-99 war between Kosovo’s ethnic-Albanian pro-independence groups and Serbian forces, the families of Behrami, Xhaka, and Shaqiri took refuge in Switzerland, where there are an estimated 200,000 Kosovar Albanians.
The Associated Press reported that after the match, Shaqiri and Xhaka put their open hands together with their thumbs locked and fingers outstretched to make what appeared to be the double-headed eagle displayed on Albania’s national flag.
In an earlier match on June 22, Nigeria beat Iceland 2-0 in Volgograd on two goals by Ahmed Musa.
Nigeria, Iceland, and Argentina can still qualify for the knockout round from Group D, but Iceland and Argentina need to win their next matches.
Iceland will face Croatia in their final group game on June 26 in Rostov-on-Don, while Argentina will meet Nigeria in St. Petersburg on June 26. Croatia has already advanced.
In the other match on June 22, Brazil beat Costa Rica 2-0 in St. Petersburg with two stoppage-time goals.