NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) — Don’t look for any political overtones or distractions when Switzerland goes after a place in the knockout round of the World Cup in a match against Costa Rica.
FIFA fined three Swiss players for making hand gestures to celebrate goals in the last match, a 2-1 win over Serbia. The actions seemed directed against the Balkan country with many Swiss players having ties to the former Serbian province of Kosovo.
Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami said “of course we are happy that nobody was suspended.”
Behrami has roots in Kosovo, but pushed the focus to Wednesday’s match.
He said that that the issue “goes a little bit deeper,” but that it’s not appropriate to focus on politics at the moment.
“We have to think about the main thing, which is playing football,” Behrami said.
Switzerland will reach the round of 16 with at least a draw. Costa Rica was eliminated after losing its first two matches, which makes Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic wary at the match on the banks of the Volga in Nizhny Novgorod.
“Mind you, this is not going to be an easy one,” Petkovic said. “This is a good quality opponent. Obviously they are a proud team and have nothing to lose and are potentially dangerous.”
Petkovic and Behrami hammered over and over on the need to talk about football, not politics.
“I know it’s very interesting for people to read such things,” he said. “But this should not be a time-waster for us. We really didn’t talk about it. We carried on talking about football.”
Petkovic also defended this three players who made the gestures in the Serbia victory — Stephan Lichtsteiner, Granit Xhaka, and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Xhaka and Shaqiri made hand gestures of a two-headed eagle, an Albanian national symbol, after scoring second-half goals, and Lichtsteiner joined in the celebration.
Xhaka and Shaqiri received a warning and a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,100) for unsporting behavior, in a judgment Monday by FIFA’s disciplinary panel. Switzerland captain Stephan Lichtsteiner was warned and fined 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,050).
The two goal scorers have ethnic Albanian heritage linked to Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize that independence.
“Football is rightly an emotional game, and it has to be,” Petkovic said. “What has happened has happened, and now and we have to be aware of things like that — and we have to learn from that.”
More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup