“Not everyone can say I played in four World Cups,” smiles Xherdan Shaqiri.
“It’s always special. It’s new to play in the winter, it’s new to play in Qatar. It’s the biggest event in football. The underdog always surprises. That’s our dream.” .”
Well-rested after his club deal with MLS’ Chicago Fire ended in early October, the former Liverpool attacker is primed and ready to once again play for Switzerland on the big stage.
In tomorrow’s Group G opener against Cameroon, Murat Jakin’s side will take home 110 caps, closing in on Heinz Herrmann’s 30-year-old national record of 118 caps.
Shaqiri was just 18 when he qualified for the 2010 World Cup. Four years later, he became the first Swiss international to score a World Cup hat-trick since Josef Hugi in 1954, shining a group stage victory over Honduras. Since then, he is the only player to score a World Cup hat-trick entirely with his left foot.
Four years ago, he also scored a dramatic late win against Serbia, influencing the move to the knockout stage.
His goal celebration, along with teammate Granit Xhaka (a hand gesture depicting the double-headed eagle symbol on the Albanian flag) infuriated the Serbs and FIFA fined them 10,000 Swiss francs each for “unsporting conduct”. (£8,848, $10,435). ‘.
Shaqiri was playing with the Swiss flag on one boot and the Kosovo flag on the other. Born in Kosovo (which its much larger neighbor Serbia does not recognize as an independent state) to Kosovar and Albanian parents, his family grew up in the former Yugoslavia when they emigrated to Switzerland as refugees in 1992. escaped the conflict of
Switzerland and Serbia were once again in the same group at this World Cup, but the topic was off-limits during discussions with reporters via Zoom. So is the controversy over hosting the tournament in Qatar.
“Look, we are Switzerland. We stand for human rights,” says Shaqiri firmly. “As for the political questions, I don’t want to answer them because I’m focused on my performance. I want everyone to be proud of their country and perform.”
Shaqiri, who has 26 goals in international competition, spoke more enthusiastically about the possibility of facing Brazil again next Monday. At the previous World Cup in Russia, the nations drew 1-1 in the group stage. This time he will reunite with former Liverpool teammates Alisson and Fabinho.
“I have always had a good relationship with them, and I am happy to see them again,” he says.
“We know the quality of Brazil. They are one of the frontrunners to win the World Cup. was 20 years ago.) But the smaller teams are getting better and Brazil puts more pressure on them than us, and we try to make it as difficult as possible for them.
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“My story with Brazil is great. When I was young, Ronaldo Nazario was always my big idol. Brazil in 2014 was the best World Cup ever for me. It was a lot of fun.” I scored a hat-trick there.
“It was one of the best moments of my career. It was very hot in Manaus, but it was an unforgettable and wonderful day. I still have the 2014 ball at home. Great memories.”
It has been an eventful 15 months for Shaqiri since leaving Liverpool in August 2021 for £9.5m (now $11.2m) to join Lyon in the French top league. A season at Anfield where the supporters took him to heart.
His stay in France proved short-lived as he struggled with regular game time, and he moved to Chicago Fire in February for a club-record £5.9m ($7m) transfer fee. .
“I had three very good years at Liverpool. We won many titles — the Champions League, the Club World Cup and the Premier League,” he says.
“It was a great time. Liverpool will always be in my heart. I will always cherish those memories. I will always follow them. , I had a good relationship with the club.
“I still have a house in Manchester and whenever I go back there I try to see some matches.
Jürgen Klopp’s side entered the mid-season break in sixth place in the Premier League standings. They’ve been plagued by obvious contradictions — they’ve already lost twice as many league games this season as they did last season overall — but Shaqiri will be back when the club’s campaign resumes late next month after the World Cup. , confident his former club will kick off.
“I always watch Premier League games, especially Liverpool games,” he says.
“It was a difficult start for them, but I am sure they will come back strong. They have quality. You can’t be at your best all the time.
“Now maybe other teams know more about how to play against Liverpool. But I’m sure Liverpool will get out of here. There are still many games they want to play. They will push and I am confident that I will play in the Champions League next season. I know how important it is for the club.”
In his first season in Major League Soccer, Shaqiri scored seven goals and provided six assists in 29 appearances, while Ezra Hendrickson’s team finished 12th in the 14-team Eastern Conference.
By the time Los Angeles FC lifted the MLS Cup earlier this month following a title playoff, the 31-year-old had already returned home to Switzerland, visiting family and training at Fire’s sister club, FC Lugano. Best form to lead the charge in Qatar.
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“I arrived in Chicago with a lot of ambitions and gave it my all,” admits Shaqiri, who is committed to the Fire until the end of the 2024 season. “We wanted to go to the playoffs, but we didn’t hit the target we wanted.”
“We need to get better. It was good to be as fit as possible for the World Cup.”
The Fire’s top scorer with eight goals last season was John Duran, an exciting Colombian teenager with ties to many Premier League clubs. Shaqiri holds him in high esteem.
“He’s still very young and has a lot to learn, but he’s a very good player,” he says. “He has what it takes to play for a good club in Europe one day. When? He needs playing time. It’s important for a young player to improve. It can be difficult.
“We know it’s on another level in Europe. There are issues that have to be dealt with. He’s talented. I hope one day he’ll take that step and show himself in Europe.” hoping.”
One person who could cross the Atlantic and head in the opposite direction is Lionel Messi. His contract at Paris Saint-Germain expires at the end of this season and Inter Miami are among his suitors. Signing arguably the greatest player in football history would be a massive coup, even if he turns 36 next June.
“You can see MLS growing more and more. The league is getting better with this kind of player,” added Shaqiri.
“Teams are investing in young players. It used to be that older players went on vacation. It’s a good step for the league, a good step for the country, and a more interesting competition for everyone.”
Qatar will be the last World Cup for two of the greatest players of their generation, Messi and 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo. Shaqiri’s nimble legs have always worked well on the field, neatly sidestepping the debate about who’s the best.
“This is always a good question for everyone,” he says.
“It’s incredible what these two guys have accomplished for football over the last 20 years. I don’t know if we’ll ever see someone like them again. It’s extraordinary.
“They are big idols for a lot of young players.
“This is my fourth World Cup and I can’t wait to get started. Brazil and France are big favorites, but Germany is a tournament team and so is Spain. There are a lot of good teams.
“Our group is very tough. We need three good performances to advance to the next round. That’s our first goal. Then we’ll see what happens.”
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(Photo above: Jordan Jones/Getty Images)