Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka says he will not rise to the bait in the World Cup last-16 clash with Sweden after Tuesday’s opponents reportedly questioned his temperament.
The two sides do battle at Saint Petersburg Stadium for a place in the quarter-final, with both having come through difficult groups to reach the knockout stages.
Switzerland finished second in a pool topped by Brazil and remain unbeaten, while Sweden took top spot in a section comprising world champions Germany.
Tuesday’s match, pitting against one another teams ranked No 6 and No 24 in the world, promises to be a tight affair. On Monday, quotes emerged attributed to Sweden full-back Mikael Lustig claiming his side will target Xhaka in an attempt to provoke him into getting sent off.
The Arsenal midfielder has often had problems with ill-discipline - nine red cards in three years - although he has not been sent off since January last year.
Asked later that day about Lustig's comments, Xhaka told a media briefing: “This is not my first match, you know? Friends have told me what he said. No problem for me.
It's part of pre-match provocation, but I've learnt a few things in the past & I'm confident I'm not being forced out of the game. It's quite possible I'll be staying on the pitch for the whole game.”
Switzerland come into the match having been defeated only once in 25 fixtures. Seeking to better recent performances at major tournaments – they reached the first knockout round of the previous World Cup and the 2016 European Championship – Vladimir Petkovic’s men began their campaign in Russia with a 1-1 draw with Brazil.
Victory against Serbia and another point earned in an albeit shaky performance against Costa Rica has given the players confidence they can go further this time.
“This is the third tournament & it's the same team playing together,” Xhaka said. “We’ve been very close two times before & it was very unfortunate we failed. We've improved in many points and we can show that tomorrow.
“There are many other goals ahead of us. We hope tomorrow will not be our last match. We'll focus on Sweden and then go from there.”
For his part, Petkovic is unconcerned with writing history by becoming the first Swiss side to get past the quarter-finals at a World Cup. Switzerland have reached the last eight three times before, but not since 1954.
“Those who know me will realise I'm not really clinging to the thought of what could be, what could have been or what will happen,” he said. “We're preparing for tomorrow's match. We want to win, but that shouldn't be our final objective.”
The winner in Saint Petersburg will play either Colombia or England, who meet in Moscow in Tuesday’s other last-16 fixture.