Xherdan Shaqiri’s goal in the 90th minute capped a stunning fightback for Switzerland, which threw Group E into chaos with a 2-1 victory over Serbia on Friday in Kaliningrad.
The Swiss, who had pulled level through Granit Xhaka’s curling strike from distance in the 52nd minute, unleashed a simple yet stunning counter for the match-winner. It took two passes to get the ball from Switzerland’s penalty area to Shaqiri, who had broken behind Dusko Tosic.
The diminutive winger, a menace to Serbia’s back line throughout the final 45 minutes, latched onto the through ball sent by Mario Garvanovic and had enough pace to stay in front of Tosic before slotting the ball across Serbia keeper Vladimir Stojkovic and inside the right post.
Both players celebrated their goals by making the eagle gesture, a nod to their Kosovo roots. The republic declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, and Xhaka, Shaqiri and Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami were all pointedly booed by Serbian supporters
The win lifted Die Nati into second place in Group E on four points, behind Brazil on goal difference. But Switzerland now controls its own destiny in its final group match against already-eliminated Costa Rica, needing only a draw to advance, while Serbia and Brazil face each other at the same time Wednesday.
Serbia is now third on three points and were justifiably aggrieved VAR did not intervene to award a penalty in the second half when referee Felix Brych failed to do so after two Swiss defenders hauled down Aleksandar Mitrovic as he tried to reach a cross from Dusan Tadic.
Mitrovic was a handful all night for the Swiss, scoring a fifth-minute header on a cross from Tadic. Moments earlier, Switzerland keeper Yann Sommer did well to deny Mitrovic on an almost identical play.
Die Nati’s first chance to pull level came in the 10th minute, but Blerim Dzemaili dragged his shot wide of the right post after a pass pulled back by Ricardo Rodriguez.
Neither team was sitting back defensively as both left backs, Rodriguez and Serbia’s Aleksander Kolarov, were bombing forward on virtually every foray forward by their respective sides. Mitrovic continued to get service in the penalty area, sending a cross from Branislav Ivanovic over on the quarter-hour and trying a bicycle kick that went wide of the left post in the 19th minute.
Stojkovic did well to deny Dzemaili on a header on the half-hour after he was picked out by Steven Zuber. Tadic nearly gave Serbia a two-goal advantage in first-half stoppage time, but his 20-yard shot narrowly fizzed wide over the right corner after being set up by a knock-down pass from Mitrovic.
Switzerland’s first goal started with Rodriguez carrying play on the left before he sent a cross-pitch pass to Shaqiri, who loaded up on his favored left foot and thumped a shot that was blocked by a Serbian defender. The ball ricocheted back to the left, where it was still spinning and sitting up for Xhaka, who laced it from 20 yards and curled it away from Stojkovic into the right side netting.
Six minutes later, Shaqiri made a half-chance out of nothing as he skipped around a defender and tried a 25-yard effort on the right that glanced off the crossbar on the left side.
Mitrovic should have been awarded a penalty as he was essentially gang-tackled in the 65th minute. He looked at Brych incredulously while laying on the pitch as play continued and got little more than a lecture from the Dutch referee for demanding an explanation.
Stojkovic nearly caused a moment of panic for Serbia on 82 minutes when he juggled Breel Embolo’s shot from distance before clasping both hands on it.
Xhaka and Shaqiri became the third and fourth Swiss players to score in multiple World Cups, joining Andre Abggelen (1934, 1938) and Jackie Fatton (1950, 1954). It was Shaqiri’s fourth World Cup goal, tying him for second all-time with Abggelen and Robert Ballamann.