Who? Serbia - Switzerland
Where? Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
When? June 22, 20:00 (CET local time)
Serbia (Eden Roitfarb)
The latest game of Friday features a European derby between Serbia and Switzerland, the two more impressive teams of Group E. And that group includes favorites Brazil. The Serbs come after a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica, the previous tournament’s biggest surprise and that hasn’t lost a game in Brazil 2014. Within the Serbian camp, the mood is great, and optimism is running high. A win vs the Swiss means a qualification to the next round for the first time since France 1998, when they were still called Yugoslavia. However, finishing first in the group might lead to a meeting with Germany in the round of 16 – a matchup everyone would want to avoid.
An interesting storyline worth following is how the Serbian fans would treat Switzerland’s three Kosovar born players: Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri. Before becoming an independent country, Kosovo was part of Serbia, and the Serbian fans are usually not shy to express their feelings towards political and state issues – with even some chanting “Kosovo is Serbia” in the streets of Russia. Coach Mladen Krstajic has been asked by Swiss journalists about this topic but refused to talk anything but football. He himself was born in Bosnia to a Bosnian mother and Montenegrin father and moved to Serbia in a late age due to the Bosnian War. As a player, Krstajic’s first goal for Serbia came against Switzerland in a 2002 World Cup qualifier, a fact he made sure to remind the Swiss journalists.
Although getting the edge over Costa Rica, Serbia did not show a brilliant display of football but was rather clinical. Striker Aleksandar Mitrovic has missed a few clear-cut chances and will need to put the previous game behind him, as he will need to be on top form against the tough Swiss defense.
Switzerland (Yossi Medina)
When Switzerland looks on the Serbian squad, they can share some memories with them. The Serbian squad includes six players who won the U-20 World Cup in 2015. With some cleverness, a national team can understand how to use its talented young generation. In Switzerland we are 9 years after such a success.
In 2009, Switzerland upset Nigeria and won the U-17 World Cup. Only eight players made later an international cap for a senior team, but three of them made it in other national teams. Among the players, you can find also players that lead the team nowadays: Haris Seferovic, Granit Xhaka and Ricardo Rodriguez.
Switzerland is enjoying one of its best ever generations. These players, alongside with others who made impressive performances in other youth teams, are building the bright future of the Swiss football. While aiming for another knockout stage appearance, Switzerland knows that Serbia is the main challenger for the second place.
They can find another interesting connections to former Yugoslavia, as their coach Vladimir Petković is a Bosnian Croat who was born in Sarajevo. Without facing any political issues, Petković will accept this challenge from Serbia and will try to do his best with the team. Such optimism is the reason the Switzerland will make this game interesting.