SAINT PETERSBURG: A frustrated talent at club level, Xherdan Shaqiri tends to save his best for the big international stage with Switzerland and is putting himself in the shop window at the World Cup.
Relegated from the Premier League with Stoke City this season, Shaqiri’s sprint from halfway and finish in the final minute to beat Serbia and fire the Swiss into a last-16 meeting with Sweden was a reminder of what he is capable of at his best.
However, the impact of that goal, his fourth at a World Cup after netting a hattrick against Honduras four years ago, was largely lost in the furore caused by his celebration.
Kosovo-born Shaqiri and teammate Granit Xhaka made a double eagle gesture with their hands in a depiction of the Albanian flag in a gesture that enraged Serbia, which refuses to recognise Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
Shaqiri also wore the Kosovar flag on one of his boots and escaped with a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs (RM41,000), though he could have been handed a two-game ban by FIFA and had his World Cup ended early.
After that reprieve, Switzerland will now turn to the diminutive, stocky winger to make the difference against a Sweden side that topped Group G to help send reigning champions Germany home early.
Shaqiri’s goals tend to be spectacular. At this stage of Euro 2016 he produced an acrobatic bicycle kick against Poland that was one of the goals of the tournament.
That strike ultimately counted for little as Switzerland bowed out on penalties, and so far this highly promising Swiss generation have hit a wall at the last 16 of major tournaments.
Ángel Di María’s late strike in extra time also saw them lose out to Argentina by the finest of margins at the World Cup four years ago.
Shaqiri’s generation are unlikely to get a better chance to make that breakthrough and reach a first World Cup quarterfinal since 1954 than in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.
An ability to show flashes of brilliance but not take his country to the next level has reflected Shaqiri’s inconsistent club career.
A starring role at Basel earned him a move to Bayern Munich, and after failing to establish himself as a first-team regular with the German giants, a short spell at Inter Milan followed.
His move to Stoke in 2015 seemed destined to be another short marriage of convenience to prove himself on the Premier League stage, but a move to one of England’s top six has so far failed to materialise due to his inconsistency.
Shaqiri told a Swiss newspaper that “even a Ronaldinho could do little in this team” after his eight Premier League goals this season could not prevent the Potters beating the drop.
His comments angered some fans of the modest club in central England who believe he failed to produce regularly enough.
However, Liverpool are among those reportedly interested in meeting Shaqiri’s £12 million (RM64 million) buyout clause in the hope his abundant talent can be harnessed on a more frequent basis.
Should the best version of Shaqiri show up against Sweden, he will do his chances of a move back to the top of the European game no harm at all.