LONDON (Reuters) – Liverpool have left Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri out of the squad for Tuesday’s Champions League tie at Red Star Belgrade, saying they were uncertain over what sort of reception he would receive in the Serbian capital.
Shaqiri, an ethnic Albanian of Kosovar heritage, scored the winning goal for Switzerland when they beat Serbia 2-1 at the World Cup in June and celebrated with a gesture which appeared to imitate the eagle displayed on Albania’s flag.
Serbia refuses to recognise the independence of its former province Kosovo, whose 1.8 million people are mostly ethnic Albanians, which broke away 10 years ago.
“We have heard and read the speculation and talk about what kind of reception Shaq (Shaqiri) would receive,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp told the club website.
“Although we have no idea what would happen, we want to go there and be focussed 100 percent on football and not have to think about anything else, that’s all.
“We have no political message, absolutely not. We want the focus to be on a great game of football, free from anything else.”
FIFA fined Shaqiri 10,000 Swiss francs ($9,951.24) for the gesture, along with team mate Granit Xhaka, another ethnic Albanian of Kosovar heritage, who scored Switzerland’s equaliser in the same game and celebrated with a similar signal.
Shaqiri denied his celebration had political overtones.
Liverpool beat Red Star 4-0 at Anfield in a fixture between the sides last month to move top of Group C on six points. Red Star have one point after three matches in a pool that also includes Paris St Germain and Napoli.
($1 = 1.0049 Swiss francs)
(Writing by Brian Homewood)