Swiss media: gutsy display, shame about the celebrations

Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates scoring the winning goal against Serbia. Keystone

The morning after Switzerland’s last-gasp World Cup victory against Serbia, reactions in the country’s major newspapers are, like the match itself, a game of two halves.

This content was published on June 23, 2018 - 12:13

“Xherdan Shaqiri electrifies Switzerland,” is the Tribune de Genève’s front-page headline, referring to the last-minute goal by the team’s talisman that secured the 2-1 victory.

In a nod to the overall work-rate and quality – and not just the goal – of the matchwinner, the paper also gives him a rating of 8 out of 10, the highest of any player (Shaqiri was also awarded the official FIFA man of the match award).

Switzerland’s other major French-language paper, Le Matin, praises the “heart, guts, and talent” of the team, which fell behind the Serbs after just five minutes, following an Aleksandar Mitrovic header.

Whereas Swiss teams of the recent past would have tried to hang on to a 1-1 draw, the paper happily states, this team never sat back. Rather, “it continued to attack, sure of its power, confident of its destiny”.

This celebration of courage is echoed in the German-language press, where the Tages-Anzeiger called it the passing of a “mentality test”: a victory, just like the previous draw against Brazil, founded on an unwillingness to simply stare “in awe” at more famous opponents.

The NZZ reckons that the result should serve to instil more trust in a team from which big things were not expected. The “self-confidence” of the team was always there, it says, but perhaps this will now penetrate beyond the inner circles.

Similarly, 20 Minutes, while recognising that Switzerland do not have the attacking force of other big teams, says that it is nevertheless “a team that understands and acts as a unit, so that it is much closer to reaching the last 16 than former World Cup favourite Argentina, which looks like a disoriented collection of single masks”.

Political celebrations

However, the other major talking point of the game was the manner of celebration of Swiss goalscorers Shaqiri and, before him, Granit Xhaka: both of ethnic Albanian origin, both celebrated by crossing their arms across their chest with outstretched fingers to symbolise the Albanian eagle, a nationalist gesture referring to tensions persisting since the 1990s Balkan conflicts.

A “stupid” act that looks like an “own goal” after an otherwise exemplary night, says the Tages-Anzeiger of the celebrations. Unfortunately, the gestures risk reviving old debates and questions about team character (“How much Switzerland is in this team?” “Why does it not sing the anthem?”) at the very moment it seems so cohesive, it says.

The NZZ also laments the gulf between the sporting talents and “underdeveloped political sensitivity” of the two players, who should have let their feet – and not their hands – do the talking. This adds unfortunate fuel to a fire that was thought to have burnt out, the paper says.

Tabloid Blick is even stronger: “brilliant fools”, it calls the two players, who may now (the paper claims) be investigated by FIFA. “This provocation against the opponent, and on this stage, is just one thing: unnecessary and stupid,” it writes in an editorial.

And even though the celebration was brushed off post-match both by Shaqiri (he called it “simply emotion”) and Xhaka (“it was for the people who always supported me, it was not directed against the opponent”), most Swiss newspapers suspect that the eagle will continue to raise its head in the coming days.

“Let’s hope that the great performance will not disappear in its shadow”, says the Aargauer Zeitung.

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