Possible discipline bigger worry for Swiss than Costa Rica
NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) — Switzerland is a strong favorite to beat Costa Rica and reach the knockout stage for the third time in the last four World Cups
Even a draw would be enough on Wednesday for the Swiss in their final Group E match against Costa Rica, which lost its first two games and has already been eliminated.
The real tension revolves around three Swiss players who are being investigated by the governing body FIFA for politically charged hand gestures during a 2-1 victory over Serbia in their last group game. The gestures were intended to mimic a two-headed eagle, which is an Albanian national symbol.
The players are Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Swiss captain Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Xhaka and Shaqiri both have Albanian heritage linked to Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognize that independence.
A FIFA disciplinary panel was meeting on Monday. It could ban the three key players for two matches until the quarterfinals, should Switzerland advance that far. Or FIFA could be more lenient and simply impose fines.
Swiss soccer federation president Peter Gillieron said in an interview on Sunday that he didn't "have any concerns" about the possible bans.
FIFA rules prohibit political gestures by players or fans.
"Anyone who provokes the general public during a match will be suspended for two matches," the FIFA disciplinary code states.
Many political elements surrounded the win over Serbia on Friday, although Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic seemed to deny reality in his comments after the match.
"You should never mix politics and football," he said. "You should always show respect."
Xhaka scored a second-half equalizer, and Shaqiri scored the 90th-minute winner — and both celebrated with the two-headed eagle gesture. Shaqiri also posted photos of his playing boots with a Kosovo flag on one heel and the Swiss flag on the other heel.
In further fallout from the Group E game, FIFA said Sunday it had opened disciplinary cases against Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic and federation president Slavisa Kokeza for comments made after the game.
Serbia's federation said it filed an official complaint, including videos of game action, with the sport's governing body alleging "biased officiating" by German referee Felix Brych.
On the field, Switzerland has never lost in a World Cup to an opponent from CONCACAF, the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. Switzerland defeated Honduras in 2014 in Brazil to advance from the group stage.
Costa Rica was the sensation of the World Cup four years ago, reaching the quarterfinal to the delight of its 5 million citizens. This time, the Ticos have lost their first two and are going home no matter what happens against Switzerland.
"Unfortunately we have not played like we did in 2014," coach Oscar Ramirez said. "And I think the main thing is that we were not able to finish our opportunities."
The other Group E match pits Brazil against Serbia. Brazil advances with a win or a draw. Serbia would advance with a victory, but it might also go through with a draw depending on the result of Switzerland vs. Costa Rica.