Serbia 2 Switzerland 3: Xhaka and Co through to knockouts after ill-tempered World Cup thriller between bitter rivals

SWISS BLISS GRANIT XHAKA did his best to reignite a Balkan war as he shoved bitter rivals Serbia through the World Cup exit door.

The Swiss skipper has never forgotten how he was fined by FIFA for making a ‘political gesture’ when he scored the last time these nations met at the 2018 World Cup.

Xherdan Shaqiri gave Switzerland the lead before he told the Serbia fans to be quiet

Aleksandar Mitrovic levelled things up for Serbia midway through the first half

Dusan Vlahovic then put Serbia in front with a clever strike
Breel Embolo levelled for Switzerland shortly before half-time
Remo Freuler finished off a delightful Switzerland move to grab the winner

Granit Xhaka and Nikola Milenkovic were involved in a bust-up towards the end

The pair had to be pulled apart by their team-mates

Tempers flared at the end of the game as both sets of players’ emotions ran high

The referee dished out a total of 11 bookings during the game
And when Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic threw himself to the floor in a pathetic attempt to win a penalty, Xhaka had a few choice words for the Serbian subs protesting on the sidelines.

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To make matters worse, the Arsenal midfielder then grabbed himself in a private area and sparked a brief pitch invasion by the entire Serbian bench and coaching staff before order was finally restored.

And he wasn’t finished there and had to be pulled away from Mitrovic after another furious bust-up in stoppage time.

But given the bad blood which has been bubbling under the surface for the past four years between these unlikely enemies, it came as absolutely no surprise when it all kicked off again with a place in the last-16 at stake.

And the way both teams went for the jugular right from the start confirmed that no-one was going to be taking a backwards step in this battle for the right to face Portugal in the next round.

It was Xherdan Shaqiri who predictably lit the blue touch paper when he fired Switzerland into a 20th-minute lead and then raced to the Serbian fans who had been booing his every touch to give them a hush.

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Like Xhaka, the former Stoke and Liverpool star has never been forgiven by the Serbs for making the double eagle gesture in honour of his Kosovan roots when he scored the last minute winner in Russia four years ago.

But this time he only succeeded in poking the hornet’s nest and within six minutes Mitrovic levelled with a magnificent header into the far corner from Dusan Tadic

Former Southampton playmaker Tadic was running riot down the left flank and it was his through ball which teed up Dusan Vlahovic to fire Serbia ahead in the 35th minute with an angled shot inside the far post.

The £60million Juventus striker, who turned down a move to Arsenal last season, was making his first start of the World Cup after angrily denying that he had been having an affair with the wife of goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic.

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And Milinkovic-Savic’s week was about to get a whole lot worse when he was beaten by Breel Embolo on the stroke of half-time and again by Remo Freuler three minutes after the break.

Shaqiri had inevitably played a leading role in both goals, although it was Ruben Vargas’ wonderful lay-off which had opened the way for Freuler’s strike.

He might be on the wrong side of 30 and plying his trade in the MLS but Shaqiri still revels in his role of pantomime villain and was certainly in no rush to leave the pitch when he was subbed immediately after that 65th minute flare up.

An appeal over the stadium tannoy for an end to offensive chants inevitably fell on deaf ears as the game reached its conclusion with a spate of yellow cards.

And the only surprise was that the game finished with all 22 players still on the pitch