Sunday, June 09, 2024

Greatest Euro Matches: France-Switzerland, 2021

France won the World Championship of 2018 in Russia, and were surely considered one of the favourites to take the European title in 2020. That said, due to the COVID pandemic the tournament 2020 could not be the year that they would be able to take the title, as the entire tournament was postponed to 2021. Gthis nevertheless appeared to mean nothing with a team captained by the experienced Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and with strong defenders such as Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and FC Barcelona’s Clement Leglet. The wingbacks were the Bayern Munich players Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. In the meantime Manager Didier Deschamps had too many brilliant midfielders to choose from: Paul Pogba from Manchester United, Ngolo Kante from Chelsea, Moussa Sissoko from Tottenham, Andrien Rabiot from Juventus or Kingsley Coman from Bayern Munich. And it attack, complementing one of the world’s best players, Kylian Mbappe from Paris St. Germain, were such stars as FC Barcelona’s Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele, Chelsea’s Oliver Giroud and Real Madrid’s superstar Karim Benzema. 

In every way France looked awesome, but had not been perfect in qualification, losing one match to Turkey, but still winning their group. 

In the group stages France ended in the so-called “Group of Death” alongside Germany, Portugal and Hungary. Although playing in Munich France defeated Germany 0-1 in their opening match and 1-1 and 2-2 with Hungary and Portugal respectively was enough to win the group and make it to the last-16 where they were to play the unfancied Swiss. 

Despite being unfancied Switzerland was a solid and organised side of experienced players who played in good clubs, mainly in Germany. Borussia Monchengladbach’s Yann Sommer was the goalkeeper in front of strong defenders such as Borussia Dortmund’s Manuel Akanji, Borussia Monchengladbach’s Nico Elvedi,Torino’s Ricardo Rodriguez and Newcastle’s Fabian Schar. Midfield counted the strong Arsenal player Granit Xhaka and Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaquiri. And as strikers Switzerland counted with Mario Gavranovic from Dynamo Zagreb, Benfica’s Hafis Seferovic or Borussia Monchengladbach’s Breel Embolo. 

Switzerland had won their qualification group ahead of Denmark, Ireland, Georgia and Gibraltar. In the first round of the tournament they were in a difficult group with Italy, Wales and Turkey. They tied Wales 1-1 in their opening match, but were destroyed 0-3 by Italy in their second match. Defeating Turkey 3-1 in their last match was enough to take them through on third spot, and to face the French World Champions in a match in which they were certainly the underdogs. 

Perhaps it was the typical French arrogance, but they started the match doing nothing. Instead, it was a determined Swiss midfielder from Frankfurt, Steven Zuber who made a perfect pass from the left, and Hafic Sevfrovic perfectly headed the ball into a Swiss lead. The French defense had looked like they were sleeping, and now France had to prove themselves as Switzerland defended deep with a strong Yann Sommer in goal. That said, besides some shots from outside the area France looked wobbly and were losing, deservedly, 1-0 at halftime. 

Deschamps put on the young Bayern Munich player Kingsley Coman on for defender Leglet in the second half to put more pressure, but it was the Swiss who had the chance to make it 2-0 when a well-playing Steven Zuber rushed down the left side and was taken down inside the area. The subsequent penalty by Ricardo Rodriguez was nevertheless saved by Hugo Lloris. 

Instead of 2-0 the penalty appeared to give the French renewed energy and their combinations started working when Real Madrid’s great Karim Benzema made a brilliant first touch on a pass from Mbappe and made it 1-1. Two minutes later Antoine Griezmann went into the area and his shot was half saved by Sommer, but the ball ended with Benzema who headed it in for 1-2 for France. 

The match had completely turned around within five minutes, and now France were playing like the World Champions that they were, although their defense continued to look shaken during the few Swiss attacks. 

Fifteen minutes before time Paul Pogba scored one of the best goals of the tournament on a spectacular long shot that ended in the corner of the goal. Fantastic goal, and with 3-1 it seemed that France were dancing their way to the quarterfinals. 

But Swiss tenacity and a poor French defending are a dangerous combination. 

Wolfburg's Kevin Mbabu, who had come in a few minutes earlier, was given all the time in the world to lay a perfect pass into the French area where Seferovic again rose above a sleepy Raphael Varane and made it 2-3 on another header, and the French World Champions looked incredibly shaken. 

Arrogance can quickly become frustration, and the Swiss put pressure. Gavranovic, who had come in for Shaquiri, had a goal cancelled because of a tight off-side. But not giving up, Gavranovic rounded Kimpembe in the 90th minute and with a flat shot towards the far corner he made it 3-3. Again the French defense did not look like World Champions but more like Sunday school boys. 

Everyone thought 3-3, but Kinglsey Coman almost gave the French the victory hitting the crossbar in the last second of the match, which thus had to go into extra time. 

 Both teams were visibly tired in extra time. Switzerland defended heroically as the French pushed forward. Yann Sommer made good saves from Benjamin Pavard and Olivier Giroud, and Mbappe missed a big opportunity to make it 4-3, but in the end it was all in vain as it ended 3-3 and the match went into penalty kicks. 

 It was 100% accuracy from both sides before the last kick by none other than Kylian Mbappe. His shot was saved by Yann Sommer, who could immediately celebrate the sensational victory of Switzerland against the World Champions. 

 Switzerland faced Spain in the quarterfinals, whom they also gave a close match, only to lose in penalties. But their elimination of France in this extraordinary match will always be remembered. 

Bucharest, 28th June 2021 Arena Nationala 
Attendance: 22,642 
Referee: Fernando Rapallini, Argentina 

France-Switzerland 3-3 (AET) 
Penalty kicks: France-Switzerland 4-5 

France: Hugo Lloris (c); Raphael Varane, Clement Lenglet (Kinglsey Coman, 46 (Marcus Thuram, 111)), Presnel Kimpembe, Benjamin Pavard, Adrien Rabiot; Paul Pogba, Ngolo Kante, Antoine Griezmann (Moussa Sissoko, 88); Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema (Olivier Giroud, 94). Manager: Didier Deschamps 
Switzerland: Yann Sommer; Ricardo Rodriguez (Admir Mehmedi, 87), Manuel Akanji, Nico Elvedi; Silvan Widmer (Kevin Mbabu, 73), Remo Freuler, Granit Xhaka, Steven Zuber (Christian Fassnacht, 79); Xerdan Shaquiri (Mario Gavranovic, 73), Haris Seferovic (Fabia Schar, 97), Breel Embolo (Ruben Vargas, 79). Manager: Vladimir Petkovic 

Goals:
0-1 Seferovic (15) 
1-1 Benzema (57) 
2-1 Benzema (59) 
3-1 Pogba (75) 
3-2 Seferovic (81) 
2-2 Gavranovic (90) 

Penalty kicks:
0-1 Gavranovic 
1-1 Pogba 
1-2 Schar 
2-2 Giroud 
2-3 Akanji 
3-3 Thuram 
3-4 Vargas 
4-4 Kimpembe 
4-5 Mehmedi 
Mbappe missed for France

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