Swiss players won't make Albanian flag gesture again - Valon Behrami

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia -- The Switzerland players' politically loaded celebrations are now "case closed," says vice-captain Valon Behrami, who does not expect anyone to make the Albanian flag gesture for the rest of the World Cup.

Behrami said he and other team leaders talked with their teammates in the aftermath of Friday's victory against Serbia, during which Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri made a two-headed eagle gesture as part of their goal celebrations. The gesture invokes part of Albania's flag and, given the longstanding tensions in the region, is considered offensive by many Serbs.

Behrami, one of several Switzerland players with ethnic Albanian heritage to Kosovo, a country that declared independence and is not recognized by Serbia, did not criticise Xhaka and Shaqiri, who both have similar ethnic Albanian heritage.

Both players could have been suspended by FIFA for violating the rules about making political statements on the field, but they were instead fined about $10,000 and given a warning. Switzerland's captain, Stephan Lichtsteiner, was warned and fined about $5,000 for also making the gesture, though he does not have ethnic Albanian heritage.

Behrami said the issue is a complicated one that "goes deeper" and "deserves more time" to discuss fully. Since the team is set to face Costa Rica in the final group-stage match here on Wednesday, Behrami said now is not the appropriate time to have that discussion.

"Of course, we are happy that no one is suspended," he said, adding, in an apparent reference to facing Serbia, "it won't happen in the future because ... it won't be a special game like this."

"Maybe [the gesture] will happen with their club," Behrami continued. "But it won't happen at the World Cup."

Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic would not address the situation directly. When asked if he had spoken to his players about avoiding anything that might lead to another sanction from FIFA, Petkovic frowned.

"What has happened has happened," he said. "Now, we have to be aware of things like that and learn from them."

Meanwhile, Albania Prime Minister Edi Rama opened a bank account and urged Albanians to pay the fine for Xhaka and Shaqiri, writing on his Facebook page that he did so to show "thanks and gratitude to the two sportsmen" who brought joy to millions of Albanians.

Rama did not say what he would do with the money if the Swiss Football Association does not accept it, but a crowdfunding campaign started by an Albanian living in New York for a similar purpose pledged to donate the money to a charity of the organisation's choosing.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.