Saturday 23 June 2018, 06:35

Shaqiri: Switzerland's man for the big occasion

  • Xherdan Shaqiri scored the winner for Switzerland against Serbia

  • Swiss star spoke afterwards of his delight at the performance

  • World Cup exploits have defined Shaqiri's career

​By Alan Schweingruber with Switzerland

The match at the Kaliningrad Stadium had already entered stoppage time when the Swiss defence repelled another Serbian attack. A short pass found Mario Gavranovic and the substitute lifted his head before sending a searching pass towards Xherdan Shaqiri.

The Stoke City forward sprinted after the ball as if the match was still in its opening stages, rather than approaching its climax. Turning on the gas, he sped over the halfway line, left Dusko Tosic for dead and finished with a low shot to seal a 2-1 victory for Die Nati. The result gave Switzerland their first three points of Russia 2018 and took them a crucial step closer to the Round of 16.

“I had a good game,” declared a contented Shaqiri after the match. “I caused them problems with my style of play. I’m not the slowest, either. And Mario Gavranovic’s assist was also excellent - for someone who doesn’t usually make passes like that.”

Shaqiri obviously delivered that last comment with tongue firmly in cheek. He was delighted with the victory, with his goal and with a wonderful match in which Switzerland showed a huge amount of character.

“The manner in which we came back into the game after falling behind says a lot about this team. Turning a World Cup game around like that, a few years ago it’s something that we wouldn’t have been capable of.” Just as in their first fixture against Brazil, the most decorated team in World Cup history, Vladimir Petkovic’s team was forced to come from behind after conceding the first goal.

And it was fitting that the elusive forward should score the winning goal. He had been a thorn in his opponents’ side throughout the 90 minutes, and Serbia were simply unable to contain him. At the age of 26 years, this is already Shaqiri’s third World Cup. Last time out, at Brazil 2014, he memorably left his mark on the tournament with a hat-trick against Honduras.

Shaqiri’s personal journey is also a story worth telling. Although born in Kosovo, his family emigrated to Switzerland when he was only four years-old. He grew up in very humble surroundings in Basel, in a house without central heating.

On one occasion, he wanted to take part in a youth tournament in Spain with his brothers, but his family simply could not afford to send him. Shaqiri responded by offering to mow his neighbours’ lawns for weeks on end, in order to finance the trip to Spain himself. “Back then, I was 16 years old and playing in the youth teams at FC Basel. Two years later, I went to the World Cup in South Africa with the Swiss team. It was crazy how quickly it all happened to me.”

If the player is to be believed, Switzerland’s Russian adventure is only just beginning. “Now our aim is to beat Costa Rica on Wednesday,” he stated. Should they pick up those three points against Los Ticos, the Swiss may well find themselves up against defending champions Germany in the second round. One suspects that Shaqiri would relish the prospect.