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Switzerland stars Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka avoid FIFA ban for ‘Albanian Eagle’ goal celebration

Serbia asked FIFA to investigate, but suspensions were not handed out.

Serbia v Switzerland: Group E - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Following their goals in Switzerland’s 2-1 victory over Serbia on Friday, Swiss stars Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri both appeared to make the double eagle symbol from the Albanian flag with their hands. Serbia was upset by the gesture and asked FIFA to consider disciplinary action. FIFA opened proceedings against the pair, but decided not to suspend the players.

The conflict between the countries presently known as Kosovo and Serbia has been taking place for centuries, with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic escalating tensions in the late 1980s. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were driven from their homes or killed in the 90s, leading to NATO airstrikes, a refugee crisis, and accusations of genocide against the government of Milosevic, who died in prison at The Hague during his trial for war crimes.

Kosovo’s independence was recognized by the international community in 2008, but tensions have continued since.

In 2014, a European Championship qualifier between Serbia and Albania was abandoned after a fight on the pitch. Someone used a drone to fly into the stadium carrying a flag of “Greater Albania” — an area of land containing Albania and parts of Serbia, Kosovo, Greece, Montenegro and Macedonia — that some ethnic Albanians view as their complete homeland. The idea is highly controversial, especially in Serbia, and the crowd was incensed. But when a Serbian player ripped down the flag, the Albanian players were furious, a fight broke out, and the match was called off.

Xhaka and Shaqiri both come from families with Albanian heritage. Xhaka’s father was imprisoned for three years for protesting the Yugoslav government and emigrated to Switzerland shortly before Xhaka was born. Shaqiri was born in Kosovo in 1991, around the time that Yugoslavia dissolved Kosovo’s government for declaring independence, and his family emigrated to Switzerland when he was a toddler.

Shaqiri wears boots with a Swiss flag on one shoe, and a Kosovar flag on the other. Before the match, Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic hit out at him, saying “If he loves Kosovo so much and decides to flaunt the flag, why did he refuse a chance to play for their team?


A post shared by XS (@shaqirixherdan) on

In any event, Shaqiri and Xhaka both play for Switzerland. And after their goals, they did this.

Serbia v Switzerland: Group E - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
Serbia v Switzerland: Group E - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

How FIFA could have made the argument that these celebrations are against the rules is tough to figure out. The symbol that both are making, the Albanian Eagle, is on Albania’s official national flag. There’s no rule against displaying a symbol like this, because there couldn’t possibly be — FIFA displays the countries’ flags itself before matches. But players can be suspended for celebrations that “provoke the general public,” which the Serbian FA argues the players did.

Serbia’s FA and a lot of Serbian fans will likely be unhappy with the decision to take no disciplinary action. But if anyone thought FIFA could keep politics out of the World Cup, well, that was never going to happen.

Russia v Saudi Arabia: Group A - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Pool/Getty Images