Euro 2008 co-hosts Switzerland suffered a 1-0 defeat to the Czech Republic in Group A in the opening match of the competition. A 71st minute goal from second half substitute Vaclav Svenkos was enough to gift the Czechs the victory at the St. Jacob’s Stadium in spite of the Swiss controlling the match from start to finish.
Switzerland had the better of the chances in what was more or less a cagey first half. The hosts constructed the first chance of the match as early as the third minute when star striker Alexander Frei had his shot from the edge of the Czech penalty narrowly missing the far post. Tranquillo Barnetta then delivered a cross from the right into the heart of the Czech dangerzone in the seventh minute which did help to ruffle a few feathers. The Swiss then had a flurry of chances as long range shots from Frei threatened to breach Petr Cech’s citadel while the Czechs were reduced to a meagre crosses from the right although the Swiss goalkeeper Benaglio did well enough to tip a cross from the right over the bar in the 15th minute mark.
Alexander Frei saw his close range shot parried away with his chest by Cech just before the first quarter of the match and was then thwarted in the 36th minute by the Chelsea custodian who denied his ambitious shot from outside the Czech D-box. The Czech side exhibited a dearth of creativity in their midfield and the 4-1-4-1 formation failed to provide anything for their giant targetman Jan Koller who saw very little of the ball. Indeed it was his opposite number, the Borussia Dortmund striker Alexander Frei who was the best player on the pitch at the fully packed St. Jacob’s Stadium until he had to be pulled out just before the half time whistle after suffering a serious injury to his ankle. Frei went out in tears and, as the second half was to prove, so did the home nation’s glimmer of hope to seal a victory in their opening fixture.
Experienced veteran striker Hakan Yakin came on for Alexander Frei at the start of the second half and his introduction gave the Swiss an option on the left as until that moment they have had to rely on attacks from the right flank. The former FC Basel striker tried his luck with a long ranger just 4 minutes after coming on to take to the pitch of his former club but his shot was saved by Petr Cech, who was the best player for the Czechs throughout the match. Then one minute later Hakin Yakin earned a free-kick, which he himself took but failed to put it anywhere in the frame of the goal, hitting it a few inches over the crossbar.
Switzerland pressed on and forced the Czech Republic to drop deep to stave them off. Yakin had the best chance of the match for the Swiss just after the hour mark when a smooth passing movement along the right led to an exquisite cross that Yakin failed to direct to the back of the Czech net in spite of getting a free header, watching desperately as the ball floated just outside a beaten Petr Cech. A minute later it was Barnetta who was the guilty person as he volleyed the ball miles over the crossbar from 12 yards out.
The Czech Republic too had their chances in the second period of the match which was certainly a more open and more entertaining affair than the first half. AC Milan left back Jankulovski had a half chance with the set-piece but he hit the free-kick over the crossbar. The Czechs though finally made the breakthrough in the 71st minute severely against the run of play as a corner for them created a defensive ping-pong inside the Swiss penalty area and as the ball was floated to the second half substitute Vaclav Svenkos, the entire Swiss team looked towards the linesman in anticipation of a flag that was never raised. Svenkos glided the ball with the outside of his right foot past a stranded Benaglio and the Czechs took the lead, not to relinquish it later on in the match.
Switzerland, buoyed on by home support, pressed on and came really close in the 80th minute when in a defensive milieu in the Czech penalty area, Tranquillo Barnetta saw his shot shoved away by Czech and then the return was agonizingly hit at the underside of the crossbar by second half substitute Johan Vonlanthen. The Swiss then had a penalty appeal tune down in injury time for the second time in the match and as the referee blew his final whistle, the 41,000 Swiss fans present inside the stadium and the 7.5 million watching elsewhere in the nation let out a heavy sigh of disappointment.
The other match in Group A between Portugal and Turkey in Geneva ended in a 2-0 win for the Portuguese which implies that the co-hosts are now joint bottom in the group while the Czech Republic are second. Switzerland next play Turkey in Basel while the Czechs take on Portugal in Geneva.