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FIFA To Probe Kosovo-Tied Players For Albanian Flag Gesture

Serbia's Aleksandar Kolarov hugs Switzerland's Josip Drmic after their World Cup match.
Serbia's Aleksandar Kolarov hugs Switzerland's Josip Drmic after their World Cup match.

Soccer's international governing body says it has initiated an investigation into reports of apparent politically tinged celebrations by two ethnic-Albanian members of Switzerland’s World Cup squad.

FIFA, which bans all political messages or symbols in stadiums, on June 23 said the two players could be banned for two games if found to have violated regulations.

Switzerland on June 22 defeated Serbia 2-1 on goals by Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, both of whom are ethnic Albanians.

The two players made a gesture that evokes the double-headed eagle of the Albanian flag after scoring goals in the match in the Russian city of Kaliningrad. Both men have roots in Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that declared independence in 2008.

Many people in Kosovo, which has an ethnic-Albanian majority, identify with the flag.

Serbia has never recognized Kosovo's independence, and relations remain tense between the two countries.

The online version of the Serbian newspaper Blic wrote on June 23 that the gesture "shamefully provoked our fans."

Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic after the match reproached the players, saying that soccer and politics should "never mix."

"It's good to be a fan and important to show respect," Petkovic said.

Xhaka was born in Switzerland, but his ethnic-Albanian parents came from the Serbian city of Kursumlija, where his father was jailed by Yugoslavian authorities in the 1980s for participating in anticommunist demonstrations as a student in the Kosovar capital, Pristina.

Xhaka's brother plays soccer for Albania's national team.

Serbian newspapers also noted that Shaqiri had both Swiss and Kosovar flags on his shoes during the match.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci posted his congratulations to the Swiss team and the two scorers on Twitter, writing "Kosovo loves you!"

FIFA said it was also investigating Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic for alleged statements made after the game.

Krstajic called for the match referee, Felix Brych of Germany, to be sent to a war-crimes tribunal for his decision not to award Serbia a penalty kick on a play in the 66th minute.

"I wouldn't give him either a yellow or red card -- I would send him to The Hague. Then they could put him on trial, like they did to us," Krstajic told Serbian reporters.

The Hague tribunal heard the cases of alleged war crimes and related offenses resulting from the breakup of Yugoslavia and 1992-95 Bosnian War, which ended with more than 100,000 people dead and some 2.2 million others forced to leave their homes.

Many Serbs complain that the court focused unfairly on Serbian military commanders.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and AFP
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