Granit Xhaka won the Man of the Match award as Switzerland beat Serbia on Friday, but he was involved in a few controversial incidents.
Switzerland faced a pivotal group decider against Serbia on Friday, knowing that only a win would absolutely guarantee them a place in the knockout stages of the World Cup – though a draw would likely be enough.
Granit Xhaka made the starting lineup in a rollercoaster game as Switzerland initially took the lead, before falling behind, and eventually coming back to win 3-2 and progress. Xhaka picked up the Man of the Match award afterwards.
The fixture was a repeat of the game in 2018, when the same two countries faced off in the group stage at the World Cup.
On that occasion, Xhaka ended up picking up a fine for his “double eagle” hand gesture in celebration of a goal.
Unsurprisingly, tempers flared easily again in 2022, and Xhaka was involved in a few controversial moments.
In one incident, the Arsenal midfielder ended up in a scrap with a few Serbia players, after trying to win a ball near the opposition goalline.
Xhaka vs Milenkovic pic.twitter.com/1NUyPXorCB
— Doc (@karthikadhaigal) December 3, 2022
On another occasion, Xhaka made a rude gesture towards the Serbian bench and seemed to shout some words in their direction, leading to a bit of an uproar.
Granit Xhaka grabbing his nuts at the Serbian bench 🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/hODzFsDnAq
— george (@StokeyyG2) December 2, 2022
Xhaka rattling the entire Serbian bench 😭😭🤣 pic.twitter.com/U9fOxUUd1Y
— Doc (@karthikadhaigal) December 2, 2022
After the match, Xhaka caused a further stir by wearing his teammate Ardon Jashari’s shirt. Adem Jashari (not Ardon) was one of the founders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and Xhaka donning the shirt could be seen as a reference to that.
But it was a clever move, because Xhaka has plausible deniability in this case. After all, he was simply wearing his teammate’s shirt.
Speaking after the game, that’s exactly what the Arsenal man told the media.
“Ardon is part of our squad and we spend a lot of time together,” Xhaka said. “I told him if we won I would wear his shirt.
“There’s no political background to it whatsoever.”
Whether or not you believe Xhaka’s claims is another matter, but it’s going to be hard for FIFA to prove that it was a political statement, unlike with the hand-gesture celebration at the last World Cup.