Amid all the chaos, drama and shortcomings, it all came down to this.
Switzerland had faltered in their opening two games of EURO 2020, held by Wales and thrashed by Italy. But with one game to go against a Turkey side without a win in these finals, the Schweizer Nati had one simple aim: win and hope for the best.
A tense night in Baku felt more like an intimidating away day in Istanbul, with well over 20,000 Turkey fans making the relatively short trip over to Azerbaijan. A battle between the two countries who had underperformed in Group A, but still had a fighting chance of sneaking into the round of 16 with a first win.
Switzerland have a recent habit of performing in their final group game, and Sunday was to be no exception.
Turkey deployed an aggressive press from early on, aiming to suffocate the Swiss and force them into errors. Three points would give them a slim hope of qualification, though still underdogs to progress as one of the best.
If Vladimir Petković could have picked any one of his 26 players to open the scoring in Baku, it would undoubtedly have been Haris Seferović. Switzerland’s number nine was yet to perform at EURO 2020, with no goals to his name and under fierce criticism.
Eyebrows were raised when his named featured on the teamsheet, but it only took six minutes to show exactly why.
In a tight pocket of space surrounded by Turkish defenders, Seferović’s ruthless finish into the bottom corner was exactly what Switzerland needed.
The perfect start for the Nati, but they were not done yet.
Xherdan Shaqiri always has a moment of magic at major tournaments: the Honduras hat-trick, the Poland bicycle kick, the Serbia stunner. Nothing so far at EURO 2020? Perhaps he was just saving his best till last.
First, a beautiful curler from outside the box, gifted an abundance of time to pick his spot to beat the hapless Uğurcan Çakır. That goal made Shaqiri the first Swiss player to score at different EUROs and consecutive EUROs, a stellar feat for the 29-year-old.
Then, a first-time finish from Steven Zuber’s ball as Shaqiri fired it through Çakır’s arms, killing off the game once and for all.
His second goal was even more notable – thanks to his brace, Shaqiri becomes Switzerland’s joint-top EURO scorer alongside Hakan Yakin with three goals, and their outright greatest goalscorer at major tournaments with seven strikes.
That is why he is Switzerland’s poster boy.
Switzerland were superb at the Olympic Stadium, finally putting in a performance to be proud of, and one that they have been capable of since well before the start of the tournament. It is frustrating that it came so late, but a win is a win at the end of the day, and a very good one as such.
In a game they had to win, the Nati did everything they had failed to do earlier in the group. No cutting edge? Three wonderful goals say otherwise. Disordered in defence? More like disciplined and organised. Not living up to their potential? A thrilling 3-1 victory is exactly what they are capable of.
On the other hand, Turkey were dreadful. The supposed dark horses of EURO 2020 finish bottom of Group A, without a single point and notching just one goal through İrfan Can Kahveci. They were poor and shambolic in all three games, and go home disappointed and dejected.
Nevertheless, their opponents’ lack of quality should not take away from Switzerland’s result, the only outcome which kept them in the tournament.
Italy’s 1-0 win over Wales in Sunday’s other game means the Italians are confirmed Group A winners, while Rob Page’s Wales finish just behind in second. With Switzerland down in third, their EURO campaign would typically be over, with the top two progressing to the knockout stages.
But there is still a chance.
With the four best third-place teams qualifying for the round of 16, the Nati are still in contention to reach the next stage. Four points is a respectable points tally and should be enough to secure Switzerland’s place. At EURO 2016, when this format was first used, every team with four points or more qualified for the round of 16.
It is typically enough to qualify – and this summer should be no different – but Switzerland must wait until Wednesday for confirmation.
Petković’s squad will be watching every group finale very closely, keeping an eye on who finishes third and with how many points. As long as the Swiss have performed better than two of the other third-place teams, that will be enough. When Group F concludes on Wednesday night at around 10pm BST, we will know whether they have done it.
Until then, it is a nerve-wracking wait for all of Switzerland. They cannot do anything but sit, pray and wait, hoping that the footballing Gods will bless the Swiss cross.
Will Switzerland reach the knockout stages? Will they have the chance to reach their first quarter-final in 67 years? Will the Schweizer Nati continue the road to Wembley?
Tune in to find out.
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Read my Switzerland articles here
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