EURO 96 Part Two is the second of a three-part series on Nischal’s Blog, reflecting on Switzerland’s first European Championship appearance in 1996.
The opening game was done, the formalities completed and the tournament up and running. EURO 96 was underway.
Switzerland had earned a historic result in their first European Championship game, albeit not in the form of all three points. They came back to secure a 1-1 draw with England, with Kubilay Türkyilmaz’s penalty silencing the Wembley crowd and earning a debut point for Artur Jorge’s men.
The draw was no less than the Schweizer Nati deserved, but it wasn’t far-fetched to argue their performance warranted something even greater. They had put in a solid performance at the home of football, defending brilliantly and creating some excellent chances at the other end.
Switzerland could’ve won that opening game against a depleted England side, but the performance was a positive sign for what could follow. With the Netherlands and Scotland playing out a goalless draw in the other fixture, Group A was wide open after matchday one- everyone had a chance of qualification.
After the Nati’s debut at Wembley, they made the journey 100 miles north to Birmingham, and to Aston Villa’s aptly named Villa Park.
Next up for Switzerland, a clash with 1988 champions the Netherlands.
Led by Guus Hiddink, the Dutch had an incredible side going into EURO 96. Eight of the 22-man squad played for Ajax, who had just won a quadruple and reached the Champions League Final. The likes of Edwin van der Sar, Danny Blind and Patrick Kluivert featured, not to mention Arsenal’s new striker Dennis Bergkamp.
Jorge deployed a back-five system to combat the star-studded Oranje, no surprise when they were set to face a front three of Bergkamp, Jordi Cruyff and Peter Hoekstra.
There were two changes from the side that faced England. Borussia Dortmund star Stéphane Chapuisat came in, after he was controversially left out of the starting eleven for the opening game. Chapuisat replaced Christophe Bonvin in attack, while captain Alain Geiger was dropped for Marc Hottiger in midfield.
It was surprising from Jorge to drop his most decorated player, though the 35-year-old hadn’t performed well in the previous game. Ciriaco Sforza captained the Nati instead in a strong Switzerland eleven, one that could challenge the Dutch and maybe even grab a win.
Chances were astray in the first half, as the Netherlands couldn’t break down a resolute Swiss defence. Cruyff lashed his effort wide of Marco Pascolo’s goal, barely threatening the Nati’s number one. Aron Winter too couldn’t get it past the Servette goalkeeper, with Bergkamp’s drive towards the goal amounting to nothing.
The teams went into the break goalless, and while Switzerland were in a good position, the Netherlands were beginning to get frustrated. It was now three halves of football and over two hours of tournament football without scoring a goal- the Dutch were sure to come out hungrier than ever.
Hottiger had a huge chance for the Nati, but blazed his shot well over the bar. That was the chance for Switzerland, one which would go begging.
The Netherlands kept pushing, with Pascolo continuing to pull off some strong saves. Cruyff’s excellent header looked to be the one, but Stéphane Henchoz was there to miraculously hook the ball off the line. Switzerland were surviving, but not for much longer.
Finally, with 66 minutes on the clock, there was a breakthrough- though not the one the Nati hoped for.
A Dutch corner was cleared by Pascolo, but only as far as the feet of Cruyff. He brought it down, took a touch inside and drilled his shot back towards the Swiss goal. It nestled into the bottom corner, its speed making it difficult for the goalkeeper. The Netherlands – and Cruyff for that matter – finally had their goal. The deadlock was broken.
Not long after, the Dutch got a second. Van der Sar collected the ball in his own box, and launched it down the pitch. It got as far as the opposite final third, with Bergkamp winning the race and running onto it. Pascolo saved his initial shot, but the rebound fell perfectly to the Arsenal man to smash it into the back of the net.
Switzerland hadn’t necessarily played badly, but two good second-half goals and a failure to capitalise on their few chances meant the Nati fell to a 2-0 defeat. Two days later, England’s win over Scotland of the same scoreline meant they and the Dutch were tied at the top on 4 points, while Switzerland were hanging on by a thread.
It all went down to the final game. The Swiss had to beat Scotland by a decent amount in Birmingham, while also hoping that there would be a clear winner in England’s meeting with the Netherlands. The group looked set to be decided on goal difference, with the number of goals scored potentially coming into account.
The Nati hadn’t played particularly badly in either game, but the final results meant that there was work to do if they wanted to make the knockout stages. Everything went down to the final game against Scotland- it was all or nothing.