Sixty-seven years of anticipation later, Switzerland were back in a quarter-final.
Not since the 1954 World Cup have the Schweizer Nati reached the final eight of any major tournament, but EURO 2020 finally proved to be the one that broke the curse.
After being trounced by Italy and defeating France, Spain were the latest European giants for Switzerland to face at these finals. La Roja had just hit form by scoring five goals in consecutive games, but against a Nati side who pulled off one of the biggest shocks of the tournament, it was a tough one to call.
Who knew when Switzerland would get this opportunity again – after all, they had to wait six decades for this one.
Switzerland had scored inside the opening 15 minutes in both of their last outings, but the tables would turn in Saint Petersburg to allow Spain to strike first.
Denis Zakaria was Vladimir Petković’s only change to the team that beat France, though it was the 24-year-old who was responsible for the opening goal. Jordi Alba’s effort took a hefty deflection off Zakaria, wrongfooting Yann Sommer and rolling into his goal.
The goal drew parallels to the one that knocked the Swiss out of the 2018 World Cup – same stadium, same goal, same goalkeeper. Switzerland were hoping it would not be the same outcome.
Chances went to waste for the Swiss, headers from Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi flying over the bar. Breel Embolo coming off injured was another tough blow, as the Swiss lost another potential goalscorer early on. Switzerland clearly had the upper hand when it came to aerial duels, but to little avail as they went into the break trailing.
Nothing would give for Switzerland – step forward Xherdan Shaqiri.
Leading the Nati as captain and earning a remarkable 96th cap, Remo Freuler pounced on some lacklustre Spanish defending and put Shaqiri in on goal. Through a sea of bodies but with nerves of steel, Shaqiri rolled it through and into the back of the net.
That could have been the turning point for Switzerland. The equaliser they craved and the momentum they needed to square up to the Spaniards.
However, the picture completely changed within 10 minutes. Freuler’s heavy tackle was given as a foul despite winning the ball, but referee Michael Oliver brandished a red card to the Atalanta man. Freuler’s dismissal killed off any chance Switzerland had of nicking it in normal time – extra time it would be, again.
Those 30 minutes were cynical for the Nati, as they faced a barrage of shots from La Roja. The absence of their shooting boots certainly helped the Swiss cause, though Yann Sommer was a brick wall in preventing anything Spain fired at him.
It went to penalties – again.
Switzerland had a right to be confident by this point. Yes, they had lost three of their four penalty shootouts, but their sole win came just four days ago.
There was cause for excitement early on when Sergio Busquets slammed his spot kick against the post, followed by Mario Gavranovic’s cool finish.
From then on, everything fell apart.
Fabian Schär, who scored against France, missed.
Akanji, who scored against France, missed.
Ruben Vargas, who scored against France, missed.
It fell to Mikel Oyarzabal, the man whose penalty had won the Copa del Rey for his club Real Sociedad this season. He sent Sommer the wrong way and tucked it away.
Switzerland were out of the European Championship.
For whatever reason, nothing went Switzerland’s way. It is their second consecutive tournament that has ended in Saint Petersburg, giving painful flashbacks to 2018.
Granit Xhaka was suspended, Zakaria scored an own goal, Embolo went off injured, Freuler was sent off, not to mention the trio who all failed to convert their penalties. Luck was not on the Nati’s side, and that was evident from the final result.
Switzerland have crashed out, but they can absolutely hold their heads high and be proud of themselves.
Reaching the quarter-final was a dream, and they had already achieved something incredible by making it this far. Anything after that was a bonus, a further chapter in the Swiss fairytale of EURO 2020. It was not to be for Petković’s men.
It has been a tournament like no other.
Almost 14,000km travelled, five games in four countries and an unforgettable run to the EURO quarter-finals. A first final eight appearance in 67 years, and a first ever in the European Championship. They may be going home, but Switzerland have written a new chapter in the history books, and how.
There were so many moments to savour to. Embolo’s towering header, Shaqiri’s stunner, Seferović’s brace, Gavranovic’s last-minute winner. And Sommer, whose penalty save against Kylian Mbappé will forever be etched in Swiss football history.
The future is bright for Switzerland, as they return to World Cup qualifying after the summer break. If they can be one of the eight best teams in Europe, what can they do on the world stage?
Switzerland have made themselves proud, inspiring a nation and making us dream like we have never dreamt before.
Their fairytale EURO 2020 run has come to an end, but it is far from the end for the Nati golden generation. Petković is still Switzerland’s greatest ever manager – and now outright in games managed – Sommer remains Switzerland’s finest number one, and Xhaka will always be remembered as our brave leader from Basel.
It is the end of the road, but Switzerland have inspired a generation, sent a statement around Europe and proved that they can compete with the giants of international football.
Not too bad for a little Alpine nation.
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