World Cup 2018: Late Xherdan Shaquiri goal lifts Switzerland over Serbia

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Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates for Switzerland (Getty Images)

Xherdan Shaqiri scored a last-minute winner to put Switzerland one step closer to the last 16 of the World Cup after a 2-1 victory over Serbia.

The Stoke City forward kept his cool to put the finishing touch on a brilliant second-half comeback from Vladimir Petkovic’s side which began when Granit Xhaka scored a thunderous equaliser early in the second half.

Arsenal midfielder Xhaka defied Switzerland’s reputation as a side lacking in attacking threat when he rattled the ball into the net from 25 yards, pulling his team back into a game that almost got away from them.

Aleksandar Mitrovic wreaked havoc in Switzerland’s box throughout the first half, scoring the second opportunity presented to him for a Serbia team that looked assured and confident after beating Costa Rica 1-0 in its first game.

But Serbia’s early energy and poise faded and the defeat leaves Mladen Krstajic’s team heading into its last Group E game against Brazil knowing only a win can guarantee them a spot in the knockout stages.

Meanwhile Switzerland will meet already-eliminated Costa Rica and the way they improved throughout the course of this game will give its Bosnian coach every confidence they can secure the point needed against Costa Rica to be sure of a place in the knockout stages for the second consecutive World Cup.

Switzerland failed to deal with the threat of Mitrovic as the Newcastle United striker terrorised their defense from the outset, drawing a reaction save from Yann Sommer after five minutes and then finding the net shortly after.

Dusan Tadic burst down the right and checked back onto his left foot to whip in a cross Mitrovic met with a well-aimed header into the left side of the net beyond Sommer’s reach.

Blerim Dzemaili dragged a shot wide from inside the penalty area as Switzerland began to try to find a way back into the game, but Serbia pressured them and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic fired narrowly wide with a rising 20-yard shot.

With almost half an hour played Steven Zuber found a hole in the Serbia defense and threaded a pass for Dzemaili who drew a good one-handed save from Vladimir Stojkovic down to the goalkeeper’s right.

Switzerland was fortunate to go in only 1-0 down at halftime, though, after a corner found Dusko Tosic alone at the far post, only for the defender to deny him.

Having looked tentative in the final third all game, Switzerland was anything but after 52 minutes when Shaqiri’s shot rebounded back to Xhaka and the midfielder let it fly from 25 yards, finding the far corner of the net with a bending shot.

Shaqiri hit the frame of the goal with a twisting effort of his own before Mitrovic was denied an opportunity at the other end by some extremely close marking, the 23-year-old wrestled to the ground by Fabian Schar and Stephan Lichtsteiner at the far post with no protection from the officials.

Switzerland substitute Mario Gavranovic was flagged offside as he hit the side-netting with what looked like a golden opportunity, but the break seemed to give the Swiss a boost.

In the final minute of normal time, Gavranovic played a superb throughball to Shaqiri, who outran Tosic and nutmegged Stojkovic with a low finish igniting the Swiss fans and allowing his country to dream of the knockout phase.

Key Opta stats:

– Switzerland’s 2-1 victory over Serbia is the first game at the 2018 World Cup to see a side win from a losing position.
– As an independent nation, Serbia has lost each of the six World Cup matches in which they have conceded.
– Switzerland has lost just one of its last 24 matches (W17 D6), a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in a World Cup qualifier in October 2017.
– Switzerland has conceded a goal in three consecutive World Cup games; it had only conceded in three of the previous 10 before this run.
– Stephan Lichtsteiner made his ninth World Cup appearance for Switzerland in this game — the most of any Swiss player in history.
– Aleksandar Mitrovic has scored 18 goals in 26 games for club and country in 2018.
– Five of Granit Xhaka’s 10 goals for Switzerland have come from outside the box.
– Only Josef Hugi (6 goals) has scored more World Cup goals for Switzerland than Xherdan Shaqiri (four, tied with Robert Ballamann and Andre Abegglen).