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Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to advance to the World Cup round of 16

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Xherdan Shaqiri took off as soon as the ball hit the back of the net.

It was no surprise where he headed after scoring the opener in Switzerland’s 3-2 win over Serbia on Friday, a result that put his team through to the last 16 of the World Cup. for the third consecutive tournament.

Born in Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, Shaqiri ran directly to the rival fans to celebrate, putting his finger to his lips after previously being jeered by that part of the crowd.

The game was just 20 minutes old and the tension was palpable.

“You can hear when you listen to my voice, it’s hoarse, that it was a game with a lot of emotions,” Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka said. “It’s part of football. The game was pretty fair. We wanted to focus on football. We did this and we took this first step and now we are in the round of 16. We are proud”.

More importantly for Switzerland, they progressed to the knockout round after finishing second in Group G and will then face Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo on Tuesday at the Lusail Stadium.

But the tensions surrounding this particular matchup always threatened to explode.

The countries met in the group stage at the last World Cup in 2018, resulting in a victory for Switzerland, but Shaqiri and Xhaka were fined for celebrating with hand gestures depicting Albania’s national eagle symbol.

Xhaka and Shaqiri both have Albanian heritage linked to Kosovo.

Serbia was also fined and warned by FIFA about the “display of discriminatory banners and messages” by supporters.

An announcement was made at Stadium 974 during Friday’s game that appeared to be related to the chants from Serbian fans. FIFA did not say what the announcement was after the match.

“I didn’t hear it. Honestly, I didn’t hear,” Serbia coach Dragan Stojković said of the chants. “I was concentrating on the game.”

Enough happened on the pitch, including Remo Freuler’s game-winning goal just after halftime and various clashes between the players.

“First of all, I want to enjoy the moment,” said Switzerland coach Murat Yakin, after being asked about his players’ behavior during a bad-tempered game. “It cost us a lot of energy and emotions. We went through a lot.”

Several Serbian substitutes stormed the pitch in the second half when Aleksandar Mitrovic was denied a penalty. Xhaka was at the center of a heated melee late in the game.

“Sometimes, you know, tensions come up and maybe bad language creates awkward behavior,” Stojković said. “But it’s nothing special. It’s normal for this kind of game.”

Shaqiri scored the opening goal and later played a key role in the game-winning goal. He clipped a ball into the penalty area for Rubén Vargas, who hit Freuler with a heel for the goal.

Despite those goals, Shaqiri was not happy to be substituted in the 69th minute. Before sitting down on the bench, he hit the side of the bench with his elbow.

“Nobody likes to be substituted,” Yakin said. “Part of my responsibility is to protect the players. He scored a goal and had a great assist. He was very present and supported his teammates and made a difference”.

Goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic had put Serbia ahead in the first half, but Breel Embolo leveled the score just before half-time.

Needing a win to secure a place in the knockout round after beating Cameroon and losing to Brazil in their first two games, Switzerland reached the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and again four years later in Russia. They lost 1-0 in both games, against Argentina and Sweden, respectively.

Against Portugal, the Swiss will be looking to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since they hosted the competition in 1954.

LUCKY CHARM

Argentine referee Fernando Rapallini officiated Friday’s match at Estadio 974. He also refereed Switzerland’s penalty shootout victory over World Cup winners France in the round of 16 of last year’s Euro Cup.

I’VE GOT A COLD

Swiss goalkeepers Yann Sommer and Philipp Koehn, as well as defender Nico Elvedi, were unavailable due to illness.

GOAL KING

Mitrovic scored his 52nd international goal to extend his record as Serbia’s top scorer.

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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