MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Deja vu for Chicago Fire's Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland at 2022 World Cup draw


The 2022 FIFA World Cup draw felt a bit too similar to the 2018 World Cup draw for Chicago Fire FC midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri.

Once again, Switzerland found themselves drawn against Brazil and Serbia in the group stage of the World Cup. Brazil are currently the No. 1 ranked team in the world, too.

“It’s a good group but I’m surprised we have almost the same group as 2018, with Serbia and Brazil," Shaqiri told media during a virtual press conference. "Just Cameroon is the new team. I’m excited, it’s a tough group. It’ll be tough for everybody."

Cameroon will likely feature fellow MLSer Nouhou Tolo, a fan favorite defender with Seattle Sounders FC.

Switzerland advanced to the knockout rounds in 2018 thanks in no small part to Shaqiri and his stoppage-time game-winning goal against Serbia. Switzerland also got a result against Brazil, drawing 1-1. However, they were then eliminated by Sweden in the Round of 16.

Four years is a long time in world soccer – plenty of things have changed – though Switzerland's core remains familiar. Shaqiri was the leading man in 2018, with Yann Sommer, Manuel Akanji, Ricardo Rodriguez and Granit Xhaka playing key roles. All of those players remained key during World Cup qualifying. Then-youngsters Breel Embolo and Denis Zakaria got a taste of the World Cup in 2018 and are now regulars in 2022.

With all four teams hopeful of advancing, Group G is viewed among the most difficult groups at the 2022 World Cup.

“There’s a few really hard groups, we’re for sure in one of them," Shaqiri said. "But at the World Cup, there are no weak teams. Everybody deserves to be here. Only the best teams in the world can play at the World Cup.”

Unlike the tournament taking place in the summer as is tradition, the 2022 World Cup kicks off in November. It's midseason for most European calendars and the offseason for MLS. Depending on how this season finishes for Chicago, Shaqiri might have excess time off compared to his teammates.

Decision Day, the final MLS regular season matchday, is Oct. 9. Switzerland's opening match is Nov. 24. If the Fire fail to make the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, Shaqiri will go more than six weeks between competitive games leading up to the World Cup.

“I hope we can go to the playoffs, it is my first goal with this team and we have to believe," Shaqiri said. "I think we’ll go, I’m sure we’ll do everything to make the playoffs, but only seven teams can go [from each conference]. Everything is possible in football. If I’m not in the playoffs, I have to keep myself fit. For me, it’s no problem to train on my own or somewhere else.”

Chicago have started the season strong and sit third in the Eastern Conference standings, with two wins and two draws after four matches.

With the national team, Shaqiri has been the face of the program for a decade. He was a rising talent back in 2010, making his debut on the world's biggest stage. They had only qualified for two of the previous 10 editions of the World Cup. In both 2014 and 2018, Shaqiri led the team to the knockout round both times.

Shaqiri has more than 100 caps for his country, among Switzerland's all-time leaders in appearances.

“Everything must be perfect to go very far in this tournament," Shaqiri said. "You can always dream in football and in life, I dream. First I want to advance from the group, then we’ll see how far we can go.”