Serbia has hit out at a “provocative” double eagle celebration by two ethnic Albanian goalscorers in the World Cup.
Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri scored for Switzerland who beat Serbia 2-1.
Their gesture is an nationalist symbol representing the double headed eagle on Albania’s national flag. Critics say it could inflame tensions among Serbian nationalists and ethnic Albanians.
Albania’s president applauded the pair but a pro-government Serbian newspaper said they had “humiliated” Switzerland.
The celebration has brought political tensions in the Balkans on to the World Cup stage.
BBC Monitoring reports that in Serbia, pro-government newspaper Informer used a derogatory term for Albanians, saying “the Albanian clan within ‘clockmakers’ team was sending poisoned arrows weeks before, so the match couldn’t pass without a provocation”.
Some Swiss papers also called the gesture a provocation betraying a lack of political sensitivity.
Both players had earlier been booed by Serbian fans during the match.
Shaqiri later sought to downplay his celebration, saying: “It’s just emotion. I’m very happy to score this goal. It’s not more. I think we don’t have to speak about this now.”
Xhaka and Shaqiri’s families are from Kosovo, where a Serbian crackdown on the Albanian population only ended with Nato military intervention in 1999.
Xhaka’s father spent three-and-a-half years as a political prisoner in Yugoslavia for his support for Kosovan independence. Shaqiri was born in Kosovo and his family fled to Switzerland as refugees.
Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority declared independence in 2008 but Serbia, its ally Russia and most ethnic Serbs inside Kosovo do not recognise it.
There had already been some tension between the Serbian and ethnic Albanian Swiss players before the game.
Shaqiri wears boots displaying the Swiss flag on one heel and the Kosovan flag on the other – but Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic asked: “If he loves Kosovo so much and decides to flaunt the flag, why did he refuse a chance to play for their team?”
The Switzerland attacker was then roundly booed by Serbs when his name was announced.
Afterwards the Swiss manager Vladimir Petkovic – born in Bosnia – said: “You should never mix football and politics.” Serbian manager Mladen Krstajic – also from Bosnia – refused to comment.
Most Serbian media said the goal celebration was a provocation, but not all took a tone of outrage.
- Popular news portal B92 said the match had been made “politically tense”
- Widely read Blic said of Shaqiri: “He first made us mourn and then explained after the match in Serbian language why he provoked”
- Srbin.info said: “Brutal provocation: Xhaka displays the Albanian eagle after scoring and infuriates all Serbs”
However Vecernje Novosti, Politika and state broadcaster RTS focused instead on a complaint by the Serbian football association over the referee’s failure to award a penalty when Mitrovic was apparently wrestled to the ground by two Swiss players.
The Serbian football association is also complaining about Shaqiri’s boots, the goal celebrations and Albanian flags in the stands, they reported.
It is not the first time that football has provided a flashpoint for the long and bitter rivalry between Serbia and Albania.
In 2014 a match between the Balkan nations was abandoned after a drone carrying an Albanian flag sparked a brawl. Ordinary Albanian fans had been banned from attending the game.