The pair, who both have ethnic Albanian heritage but grew up in Switzerland, turned Friday night’s match around after Serbia had taken the lead through Aleksandar Mitrovic early in the first half, The Guardian reported.
Both put their open hands together with their thumbs locked and fingers outstretched to make what looks like the double-headed eagle displayed on Albania’s national flag. The thumbs represent the heads of the two eagles, while the fingers look like the feathers.
The gesture is likely to inflame tensions among Serbian nationalists and ethnic Albanians.
Shaqiri was born in Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense. Xhaka’s parents are originally from Kosovo and they are of Albanian heritage. The Arsenal midfielder’s father was imprisoned in the former Yugoslavia for campaigning in favor of Kosovan independence.
Shaqiri, who plays for Stoke City, said after the match that “it’s just emotion” when he was questioned about the way he celebrated his late winner.
“I think in football you have always emotions,” he said. “You can see what I did and I think it’s just emotion. I’m very happy to score this goal. It’s not more. I think we don’t have to speak about this now.”
Switzerland’s coach, Vladimir Petkovic, added, “You should never mix politics and football. It’s clear that emotions show up and that’s how things happen. I think we all together need to steer away from politics in football and we should focus on this sport as a beautiful game and something that brings people together.”
The buildup to the match had seen exchanges between Serbian players and Shaqiri who wears boots with the Kosovo flag displayed on one heel and the Swiss one on the other.
Mitrovic asked, “If he loves Kosovo so much and decides to flaunt the flag, why did he refuse a chance to play for their team?”
But afterward, the Serbian boss Mladen Krstajic would not be drawn into the controversy.
“I don’t have any comment,” he said. “I don’t deal with these things. I am a man of sports and this is what I am going to stay. I have no comment.”
The win puts Switzerland into second place in Group E with four points, the same as Brazil, which beat Costa Rica 2-0 earlier in the day.
The Swiss will advance to the round of 16 provided they do not lose to Costa Rica on Wednesday in Nizhny Novgorod. Serbia will face Brazil in Moscow at the same time.
Serbian papers slammed what they labelled "shameful provocation" by Xhaka and Shaqiri.
The two "celebrated their success with a 'black eagle' sign of people who believe in the idea of the so-called 'Greater Albania'," the online version of the Blic paper commented, AFP reported.
It said Xhaka "shamefully provoked our fans. After making a 'double eagle' gesture clearly alluding to his (ethnic) Albanian origins, he was running on the pitch trying to attract the attention of the cameras".
The Telegraph paper criticized the "provocative Albanian gesticulation" while the Vecernje Novosti, under the headline "Provocation of the Swiss", featured a large photo of Shaqiri's boots.
The Serbian Football Federation had complained over Shaqiri's boots ahead of the match but without success, state-run television RTS reported.
"We sought that he changes the boots. It was a provocation, we were playing against Switzerland, not Kosovo," official Jovan Surbatovic said.
Meanwhile, papers in Kosovo praised the "extraordinary performance" of the two players with ethnic Albanian origins.
"The gesture of Xhaka and Shaqiri causes hysteria in Serbia," the Zeri paper commented.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci tweeted his congratulations to the two scorers and the entire Swiss team on a "well-deserved win. Proud of you! Kosovo loves you!”
Petrit Selimi, a former high-ranking Kosovo government official, defended the players' actions.
"Why provocative? It's a symbol of the Albanian flag. They (players) used to be Kosovo Albanian refugees," he said on Twitter.