WORLD CUP 2018

Kosovo raises funds for Swiss players' fines

PRISTINA • Kosovo was collecting money yesterday to pay the Fifa fines of Switzerland players Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Stephan Lichtsteiner for celebrating goals with a pro-Kosovo double eagle gesture in their World Cup win over Serbia.

Arsenal midfielder Xhaka and Stoke's Shaqiri trace their roots to Kosovo, a former province of Serbia with an ethnic Albanian majority where thousands were killed during a 1998-1999 conflict between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian guerillas.

The double-eagle symbol represents the Albanian flag and is viewed as a symbol of defiance in Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 in a move that Serbia still refuses to recognise. The players' celebrations in the 2-1 victory in Kaliningrad on Friday caused outrage in Serbia.

Fifa rules prohibit political symbols in stadiums and the players could have been banned. Instead, the sport's world governing body fined Xhaka and Shaqiri each 10,000 Swiss francs (S$13,760) and Lichtsteiner 5,000 francs.

Nearly €12,000 (S$19,090) were gathered less than 24 hours after online fund - www.gofundme.com/Xhaka-Shaqiri-and-Lichtsteiner - was launched. Kosovo Commerce and Industry Minister Bajram Hasani said he donated his monthly salary of €1,500.

"They (players) were punished only since they did not forget their roots," he told the local media. "Money cannot pay the joy that Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri brought us by celebrating with the eagle sign for their goals during the Switzerland-Serbia match."

The Swiss face already-eliminated Costa Rica, who have yet to score in this tournament, today .

Switzerland have never lost to a Concacaf side at the World Cup and need just a point in Nizhny Novgorod to guarantee their place in the last 16.

Switzerland defender Michael Lang revealed that the off-the-field issues have brought the team even closer together.

"Our team spirit has become even better," he told reporters. "We're a group. We stand together. These problems don't change anything."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2018, with the headline 'Kosovo raises funds for Swiss players' fines'. Print Edition | Subscribe