Qatar 2022, Serbia-Switzerland: because Kosovo is also on the field

The match could be affected by the new tensions, with the Swiss national team playing several Kosovars

On the field at 20, with a qualification for the round of 16 still up for grabs. Serbia-Switzerland is one of the key matches of the group stage of the World Cup in Qatar but it is also something else, a geopolitical clash that goes beyond 90 minutes and calls into question one of the most complex unresolved issues on the international scene, that of Kosovo.

Several Albanian-Kosovar players play in Switzerland, from Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, and tensions are always ready to explode again when studs meet Serbian players. Football is a stage where the fracture finds a plastic representation. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo, and public order and the rule of law in Pristina and the rest of the country are guaranteed by the UN and NATO, after independence proclaimed in 2008. Serbian players have a strong nationalist sentiment, which they often flaunt. In the locker room, after the defeat against Brazil, a Kosovo flag appeared retouched with Serbian colors and with the Cyrillic writing ‘no surrender’, to remind how much the issue is felt.

On the other hand, even if Kosovo and Albania are not in the World Cup, there are Albanian and Kosovar players. One third of the Kosovar population lives abroad, especially between Germany and Switzerland. And the Swiss national team is, in part, also Kosovar. Xhaka and Shaqiri have already demonstrated their loyalty to the cause in the past and they did it against Serbia. At the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup, against their all-time rivals, they cheered by reproducing the symbol of the Albanian eagle with their hands.

Going even further back, and going back to 2014, another match should be remembered, for the 2016 European Championship qualifiers, between Serbia and Albania. It is played in a very hot climate at the Partizan stadium in Belgrade, after the hard clashes between the fans outside the plant. With the match in progress, the scuffles move into the stadium and the match is stopped. Then a drone enters the scene, carrying the flag of Greater Albania to the center of the field, with the inscription ‘autochthonous Kosovo’ and the date of 1912, that of the Albanian revolt. Serbian defender Stefan Mitrović grabs the flag and drops the drone, sparking an all-out brawl. Albanian players refuse to resume the match.

Eight years have passed but tensions in Kosovo are no different. Indeed, in recent weeks they have rekindled. Kosovar premier Albin Kurti has introduced new rules inspired by the ‘principle of reciprocity’ with Serbia and, among these, the one that prohibits the circulation of cars with Serbian license plates within the country. The reaction was not long in coming. Thousands of Kosovar Serbs took to the streets to oppose the law and to demand the creation of a Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo. Another frontal contrast, which rekindles the risk of a new escalation.

Also for this reason, the stage of a match like Switzerland-Serbia tonight becomes particularly sensitive to non-football events. (from Fabio Insenga)