Balkan’s conflict tensions echo in World Cup

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The Guardian: Swiss footballers Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri have risked inflaming political tensions in the Balkans after they used an Albanian nationalist symbol to celebrate their goals against Serbia in a 2-1 Group E victory in Kaliningrad.

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The pair, who both have ethnic Albanian heritage but grew up in Switzerland, turned Friday night’s match around after Serbia had taken the lead through Aleksandar Mitrovic early in the first half.

Both put their open hands together with their thumbs locked and fingers outstretched to make what looks like the double-headed eagle displayed on Albania’s national flag. The thumbs represent the heads of the two eagles, while the fingers look like the feathers.

 

The gesture is likely to inflame tensions among Serbian nationalists and ethnic Albanians.

Shaqiri was born in Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense. Xhaka’s parents are originally from Kosovo and they are of Albanian heritage. The Arsenal midfielder’s father was imprisoned in the former Yugoslavia for campaigning in favour of Kosovan independence.

Shaqiri, who plays for Stoke City, said after the match that “it’s just emotion” when he was questioned about the way he celebrated his late winner.

 

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