KALININGRAD – The match in Kaliningrad on Friday was played in a highly charged atmosphere underpinned by Balkan politics.
Switzerland’s goalscorers in their 2-1 win, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, trace their roots to Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that declared independence in 2008 in a move bitterly opposed by Belgrade.
They celebrated their goals by making a double eagle gesture with their hands to represent the Albanian flag. Many people in Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority, identify with the flag.
VAR automatically checked the tussle during the #SRBSUI match. A silent check was completed & an OFR review was recommended to referee Dr Felix Brych.
— VAR Official (@VAROfficial1) June 22, 2018
Serbia would have qualified for the knockout rounds of a World Cup for the first time as an independent nation if they had won the match.
Despite opening the scoring through Aleksandar Mitrovic in the fifth minute, Serbia lost 2-1 after Xhaka and Shaqiri netted for Switzerland.
They now face the daunting task of getting a result against Brazil in their final game.
Serbia were furious when German referee Felix Brych failed to award a penalty in the 66th minute after Mitrovic was wrestled to the ground in the penalty area by Swiss defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schaer.
“We were robbed,” Mladen Krstajic told Serbian reporters on Saturday, when asked about Brych’s decision.
“I wouldn’t give him either a yellow or red card, I would send him to the Hague. Then they could put him on trial, like they did to us.”
The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was a UN body that prosecuted the perpetrators of war crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia.
It closed last year and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) has taken over from it.
Krstajic also posted photographs from the match on his Instagram account, accompanied by the comment: “Unfortunately, it seems that only the Serbs are condemned to a selective justice, once (it was) the damned Hague and today in football the VAR…”
He was referring to the video assistant referee (VAR) that is being used at the World Cup to check controversial incidents. Brych chose not to refer his decision on the penalty to review by VAR.
The Serbian press called Shaqiri’s celebration “shameful provocation”. The player said in a post-match interview his celebration was “just emotion” but added he was not allowed to talk about politics.
The Serbian football association reportedly complained to world football’s governing body FIFA about the Kosovo flag that adorned one of Shaqiri’s boots.
“We sought that he change the boots. It was a provocation, we were playing against Switzerland, not Kosovo,” team official Jovan Surbatovic told Serbian state-run broadcaster RTS.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, less then a decade after the 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian guerillas and Serb forces, but Belgrade — backed by its traditional ally Russia — still refuses to recognise the move.