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Switzerland's late victor over Serbia throws World Cup's Group E wide open

23 June 2018

Serbia won their opening contest Costa Rica with skipper Aleksandar Kolarov scoring from a free kick.

Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic said Thursday his Serbia side were ready for a "hellish" clash against Switzerland in a crunch Group E encounter tinged with political tension.

Xhaka was born to Kosovo-Albanian parents who were forced to flee the fall of Yugoslavia in 1990.

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Coach Vladimir Petkovic brought on attackers Breel Embolo and Mario Gavranovic in a bid to force a victor, and Gavranovic forced a smart save from Stojkovic from a close range effort with 10 minutes remaining. Not between Swiss and Serbian fans, but between Albanian and Serbian supporters.

Granit Xhaka gave Switzerland an equalizer against Serbia in the 52nd minute Friday with a brilliant strike from long range - but the replays showed that the attempt at goal likely should have been blocked by Serbia's Branislav Ivanovic.

That is because several players in the Swiss squad have Kosovo Albanian roots, including midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri who was born in Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. The 34-year-old full-back is set to become the player with the most World Cup appearances for Switzerland, having equalled Charles Antenen's mark of eight matches in the draw with Brazil.

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And Serbia head coach Mladen Krstajic is braced for a hard encounter, telling Swiss newspaper Blick: "They are very strong!" Shaqiri added the other in injury time after running past the Serbian defense.

Serbia had chances to score more before halftime. Serbia will face Brazil in Moscow at the same time. A draw will be enough for Mladen Krstajic's side only if Switzerland lose vs. Costa Rica by two goals.

Hoping to turn the game on its head, Switzerland made a change at the start of the second half as Mario Gavranovic made his first World Cup appearance. The Swiss decision to put two defenders on him paid off in the second half, though Serbia had a strong appeal for a penalty when two defenders appeared to wrestle Mitrovic to the ground as he tried to head a cross.

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Brazil need only to avoid defeat against Serbia next week to qualify for the round of 16, while their opponents know that a win would see them leapfrog the five-time winners to guarantee qualification.

Switzerland's late victor over Serbia throws World Cup's Group E wide open