EURO 96 Part Three is the third of a three-part series on Nischal’s Blog, reflecting on Switzerland’s first European Championship appearance in 1996.
In Switzerland’s final match of Group A, it was all to play for.
A promising 1-1 draw against England was followed by defeat, as the Netherlands ran out 2-0 winners at Villa Park. It left Switzerland sat on one point after two games, exactly level with Scotland – their final group stage opponents.
The Schweizer Nati needed to win to have any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals, granted that other results went their way. England and the Netherlands were tied on four points and facing off at Wembley, so if there was a sizeable goal difference swing and a comfortable Swiss win, they could sneak into second.
Scotland were the opponents in Birmingham, back at Villa Park five days after Dutch defeat. Both teams had a glimmer of hope in qualifying for the knockout stages, but a win was vital for the Nati. It had already been a promising European Championship debut, but they were determined to extend their stay in England.
Artur Jorge made two changes from their clash with the Netherlands, reverting to the 4-3-1-2 formation used in the opening game. Marcel Koller came in for Sébastien Jeanneret, while Christophe Bonvin returned to the starting eleven in place of Marco Grassi, in behind the deadly strikeforce of Stéphane Chapuisat and Kubilay Türkyilmaz.
Captain Alain Geiger was absent for the second consecutive game, leaving Ciriaco Sforza to wear the armband and lead the Nati out. A big performance was needed by the Swiss, but in the presence of tens of thousands of Scotland fans, it would feel more like an away game.
Rangers forward Ally McCoist was one of the Scottish dangermen with the first chance of the game. He found acres of space inside the Swiss box, but Marco Pascolo’s quick reflexes in goal saw him claw the ball away. Despite protests that it had crossed the line, it was a superb save from the Nati keeper.
McCoist had another huge chance, but Pascolo won the battle once again. Another incredible save, this time with his leg from just six yards out. Pascolo had performed brilliantly in the opening two games and was continuing his form at Villa Park, with save after save literally preventing defeat for Switzerland.
But third time lucky, there was no chance for Pascolo.
Gary McAllister threaded it through to McCoist, who this time was running onto the ball from the edge of the box. Without a moment of hesitation, he smashed it right into the top corner away from the grasp of Pascolo. Switzerland didn’t even have time to react, yet they were behind. It was an uphill battle from that moment on.
After the restart, Bonvin had a decent chance to equalise. But his finish from Yvan Quentin’s cross was weak and wayward, barely threatening Andy Goram in the Scottish goal.
For all of Switzerland’s pressure and determination, Scotland couldn’t take their chances and extend their lead. The Swiss couldn’t find a way back into it either, with Türkyilmaz’s powerful header their best chance all afternoon. Goram made a brilliant flying save to deny him, for what could’ve been his second equaliser of the tournament.
As the full-time whistle finally went, it was met with applause around the ground. The slim 1-0 win wasn’t enough for Scotland to make it through to the final eight, and defeat condemned the Swiss to the bottom.
Switzerland were out of EURO 96.
They had given their all and put in decent performances throughout the tournament, but for all it was worth, they finished bottom of Group A with one goal and one point. Nonetheless, it was a debut tournament to be truly proud of- to even reach the EUROs for the first time ever was a valiant achievement on its own.
That month in England could’ve gone differently, but there is nothing but pride on reflection. Switzerland had made themselves proud by qualifying for the tournament, further raising the national team’s profile footballing stage. Whether they knew it then or not, it was the start of something truly special.
Eight years later, the Nati reached EURO 2004 after three major tournament absences. Another tough group saw the same outcome – bottom of the table with one goal and one point. But progress was continuing, however slow it seemed. The 2006 World Cup was record-breaking, as Switzerland went the entire tournament without conceding a goal.
The Swiss were the co-hosts of EURO 2008 next, a first home tournament in 54 years. Appearances at the 2010 World Cup, 2014 World Cup and EURO 2016 followed, reaching the knockout stages in the latter two. They capped off a third consecutive World Cup appearance in 2018, reaching the round of 16 before defeat to Sweden.
The journey has been incredible, proven by the list of recent tournaments the Nati have qualified for. Seven tournaments in 14 years equals the same number of tournament appearances for the previous 66 years, dating back to the 1938 World Cup. Switzerland are now preparing for their fifth European Championship- an eighth tournament in 16 years.
It has been remarkable development for the national team, one which started all those years ago in 1996. For as long as Switzerland are playing football, that Nati of the 1990s will always be remembered as the start of something beautiful.