LIVERPOOL, England (AP) – Politics will keep Liverpool forward Xherdan Shaqiri from making the trip to face Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League, nearly five months after the Switzerland forward made a nationalist hand gesture while celebrating a goal against Serbia at the World Cup.
Shaqiri, who is Swiss but was born in Kosovo, was left off Liverpool's squad by manager Juergen Klopp on Monday because the team fears a harsh reception in Serbia during Tuesday's match.
''We have heard and read the speculation and talk about what kind of reception Shaq would receive and although we have no idea what would happen, we want to go there and be focused 100 percent on football and not have to think about anything else, that's all,'' Klopp said.
Shaqiri plays for Switzerland's national team but has roots in Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. At the World Cup in Russia, both Shaqiri and Switzerland teammate Granit Xhaka celebrated goals against Serbia by using their hands to make a nationalist eagle symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage.
In a story posted on Liverpool's website, Klopp didn't mention the hand gesture.
''We are Liverpool FC, a big club, a football team but we don't have any message further than that. We have no political message, absolutely not,'' Klopp said. ''We are keen to be respectful and keen to avoid any distractions that would take focus away from a 90-minute-plus contest that is important for football and only football.''
Klopp said Shaqiri accepted the decision.
''(He) understands this,'' Klopp said. ''Shaq is our player, we love him, and he will play for us a lot of times, but not on Tuesday.''
Liverpool leads Group C with six points from three matches while Red Star is last with one. Two weeks ago, Liverpool routed Red Star 4-0 at Anfield.