Swiss have to put controversy behind

Swiss have to put controversy behind

Switzerland's Blerim Dzemaili (left) and Xherdan Shaqiri at a training session. AFP

Switzerland head to Nizhny Novgorod searching for the point that will guarantee their place in the last 16 and also try to put a political storm behind them.

All eyes may be trained on Brazil's potentially explosive match against Serbia on Wednesday, but at the same time, Switzerland has the opportunity to secure their place in the last 16 and even top Group E.

A win, or even a draw, for the Swiss against an already eliminated Costa Rica, would book their ticket in the knockout stages.

A big victory could mean them taking the group and potentially setting up a clash with Germany in the last 16, providing the stuttering World Cup holders emerge from Group F.

And if Brazil beat Serbia, the Swiss will go through even if they lose to Costa Rica. But although their progress on the pitch has been smooth -- a creditable 1-1 draw with Brazil, followed by an exhilarating win over Serbia -- off the field it has been anything but easy.

On Monday the threat of a two-match suspension against three of their most influential players -- Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka, and Stephan Lichtsteiner -- was lifted. Shaqiri and Xhaka scored against Serbia in the 2-1 win and both celebrated by making a "double eagle" gesture with their hands to represent the Albanian flag.

Instead of a ban for a political gesture, which would have kicked in for the Costa Rica match, FIFA fined them for "unsporting behaviour".

The controversy is unusual for Switzerland, who usually fly under the radar at World Cups, and are marshalled by ex-Lazio coach Vladimir Petkovic, himself born in the former Yugoslavia.

For the Costa Ricans, Nizhny Novgorod represents the last chance at redemption at this World Cup after their heroics saw them reach the quarterfinals in 2014.

This time around Oscar Ramirez's side have failed to register a point or score a goal. Only at the 2006 World Cup have they previously managed not to take a point from their three group games.