World Cup 2018: Serbia file official complaint against referee after Switzerland penalty controversy

Tim Rich
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For Serbia, it was a day and a night of agonising frustration, and at the end it boiled over. Before kick-off against Switzerland, they had watched Costa Rica holding out against Brazil, backs to the wall.

By the end of normal time, it was goalless and, if Kaylor Navas could keep the Brazilians at bay for six more minutes, Serbia would go out on to the pitch in Kaliningrad knowing that, if they beat the Swiss, they would qualify for the knockout phase of a World Cup for the first time in 20 years when they still went by the name of Yugoslavia.

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Costa Rica did not cling on in St Petersburg and after dominating the opening hour in Kaliningrad, Serbia did not cling on against Switzerland. Now, they will have to beat Brazil in Moscow’s Spartak Stadium to go through.

They were irritated beyond measure by the double-eagle celebrations of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri that marked the goal-scorers out as children of Kosovan refugees, but they were not prepared to discuss the politics of Kosovo.

They were, however, prepared to talk about the refereeing of Felix Brych, which Savo Milosevic claimed cost them a clear penalty for a foul on Aleksandar Mitrovic. In the first match against Costa Rica, Mitrovic had also had a fierce claim for a penalty waved away. Since Serbia won that match, it did not matter. This did.

“We have filed an official complaint, that is all we can do,” said Milosevic, who spent three years at Aston Villa and is now vice-president of the Serbian FA. “Two decisions in two games is too much. This is a World Cup and those kinds of decisions are deciding games.

“This decision, against Mitrovic, was at 1-1 and they have decided the game on the pitch instead us. I congratulate the Swiss, they are an excellent team but, really.

“I understand the referee didn’t see it but that is why we have VAR. What are those guys doing up there? Do we need another four men up there, do we need 100 people to control VAR for something we can all see perfectly well? We are Serbia and nobody cares, that is all I can think of.”

However, in Russia they do care about Serbia. There has been a long, deep bond of friendship between the two nations. In part, the First World War started because of it, and in Kaliningrad three quarters of the stadium was a mass of Serbian support.

That friendship will be there, facing Brazil’s travelling army of fans in Moscow’s Spartak Stadium. Until Xhaka scored and the eagle celebrations began, you could see Serbia, spearheaded by Aleksandar Mitrovic, beating Brazil. Now, however, they looked shocked, angry and incoherent and in precisely the wrong frame of mind to take on Neymar and Philippe Coutinho.

Dusan Tadic looked distraught as he left the stadium: “Can we beat Brazil? If we defend like that, we cannot beat anybody,” said Tadic, who is believed to be negotiating a transfer from Southampton to Ajax after the World Cup.

“We gave Switzerland too much space. If you do this in today’s football, you will lose against every kind of team. I am very disappointed, very, very disappointed. We gave the Swiss everything and it is our mistakes. We need to take some lessons from this. You beat nobody in football if you don’t defend well.

“We have fantastic support, wonderful fans. They gave us everything and we didn’t give them anything back.”