KALININGRAD, Russia — It was Xherdan Shaqiri’s right boot that made the headlines before his match on Friday, but it was his left boot, and his hands, that were the story after the game ended.
Shaqiri’s 90th-minute goal in a 2-1 victory against Serbia was the final act of a pulsating match. It was also a game dominated by questions of identity and belonging, of war and peace. Three members of Switzerland’s starting lineup, including both of its goal scorers on Friday, were born in, or have roots, in Kosovo, an ethnically Albanian province that fought a war of independence against Serb-dominated Yugoslav forces in the late 1990s.
Shaqiri had never shied away from his roots. Before the World Cup, he posted a photo on his Instagram account showing the boots he would wear for the tournament. On the left boot’s heel was the flag of Switzerland. On the right, the flag of Kosovo.
So after Shaqiri broke free of Serbia’s offside trap in the final minutes of the game and slid the ball with his left boot, his Swiss boot, under the onrushing Serbia goalkeeper, Vladimir Stojkovic, he peeled away and made a two-handed eagle gesture with his fingers. It is a nationalistic sign that many with ethnic Albanian roots make — Granit Xhaka made it after he scored Switzerland’s first goal earlier in the second half — to mimic the black eagle in Albania’s flag.
Asked about the gesture after the game, Shaqiri said: “In football you have emotions. You can see what I did. It was just emotion.’’
The biggest impact of Shaqiri’s late goal was to tighten the race for the top two spots in Group E, which brings advancement to the round of 16. Brazil, which beat Costa Rica earlier in the day, and Switzerland each have four points and Serbia has three, making the final day of group play on Wednesday a notably dramatic one. Serbia and Brazil will square off in Moscow at the same time that Costa Rica and Switzerland meet in Nizhny Novgorod.
As Serbia and Switzerland battled on the field on Friday, the connections to the past were everywhere you looked. Shaqiri and Valon Behrami, a Swiss defender, were born in Kosovo. They fled with their families when the economic and political situation deteriorated.
Behrami has a large Kosovo flag tattoo, in contrast to Shaqiri’s decorated boot. Xhaka has been vocal on social media about his Kosovar Albanian identity. A fourth Swiss player, Blerim Dzemaili, was born in the ethnically Albanian city…