Switzerland beat rivals Serbia 3-2
Deep within the nightmarish fever dream of this World Cup, yet another thrilling match took place.
After a 2-0 defeat to Brazil and a chaotic 3-3 draw with Cameroon, Serbia arrive at Stadium 974 knowing they can only salvage their campaign with a win combined with a draw or defeat for the Cameroonians against Brazil. For Switzerland, who were on three points with one win and one loss, a draw was enough to finish as runners-up as long as Cameroon don’t cause an upset.
As if this tournament needed another point of contention, there are political tensions bubbling beneath the surface of this fixture. Several Switzerland players have Albanian or Bosnian heritage which, given the bitter legacy of the Yugoslav Wars, means a game against Serbia had the potential for acrimony. The last time they met Shaqiri and Xhaka celebrated their goals with a show of their Balkan heritage against historical enemy Serbia.
This time as well it was the Swiss who started off quite strongly from the first minute. Serbia’s Vanja Milinkovic-Savic was called upon to make a double save. Xherdan Shaqiri latched onto a loose ball and dinks a pass over the top to Breel Embolo, who is denied at close range. Granit Xhaka had a go on the rebound, but Milinkovic-Savic threw his body in the way once again.
10 minutes later, Serbia would get their chance too. Andrija Zivkovic galloped into space and unleashed a shot from a distance which rattled the upright post. The rebound falls for Aleksandar Mitrovic, but he could only guide the ball into Kobel’s arms at close range.
Shaqiri who, along with Xhaka, has perhaps the biggest personal investment in this fixture, had been whistled relentlessly by the Serbia fans for the first 20 minutes. Unfortunately for them, he scored the opener. A routine ball into the box is cleared as far as Djibril Sow, who teed up Shaqiri to his right. He lashed past Vanja Milinkovic-Savic before charging off towards the corner flag with his finger held firmly to his lips.
But on the other end, Dusan Tadic made a yard of space with a clever turn in midfield and dinked an inviting ball into the area. Mitrovic met it and sent a header looping past Kobel and into the far corner.
Shaqiri was then inches away from scoring a second! A beautiful long ball from Ricardo Rodríguez fell nicely for the little winger, but a last-ditch challenge from Strahinja Pavlovic was enough to force his shot narrowly wide.
It would be Serbia who would take the momentary lead. Switzerland lose the ball in midfield and Tadic danced forwards. He slipped a delicious through ball to Dusan Vlahovic, but Remo Freuler got there first. In a head-in-hands moment, Freuler could only poke it back into Vlahovic’s path. The Juventus forward thanked him kindly by stroking the ball into the back of the net.
They may have been sloppy in possession, but Switzerland would soon be back on level terms. Sow picked out Widmer on the overlap and he thrashed the ball across the face of goal, with Embolo waiting to apply a simple finish at the far post.
After halftime, Freuler would make up for his earlier error, rounding off a wonderful team move to put Switzerland back in front. Embolo held up the ball before teeing up Shaqiri on the edge of the area. He cliped a ball over the top to Vargas, who flicked it on to Freuler for a deceptively straightforward finish.
Switzerland then miss a chance to solidify their lead. Freuler played a free kick short to Manuel Akanji. He crossed to the far post and the ball ended up with Embolo, who blazed over from barely five yards, despite being offside.
And on the 66th-minute tensions boil as a flare-up on the sidelines with Serbia’s substitutes briefly encroach on to the pitch before the referee. The referee regained control. Predrag Rajkovic is booked for his part in the commotion, though it’s not entirely clear what it was about.
The closing minutes would see both teams try to get a good lead. And there would predictably be another development. A massive shoving match broke out as Serbia’s frustrations boil over. Xhaka and Milenkovic were at the centre of it and duly get yellow cards. Mitrovic tried to provoke Xhaka into a second yellow, but he doesn’t rise to it. And with that, it would end with a Swiss victory.