KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- France, World Cup holders and favourites to win Euro 2020, are out – beaten 5-4 in a penalty shootout by Switzerland after a thrilling 3-3 extra-time draw in Bucharest.
In the quarter-finals the Swiss will face Spain who had also needed extra-time, a few hours earlier, to overcome Croatia.
The ultimate Swiss hero was goalkeeper Yann Sommer for saving the decisive last penalty from French superstar Kylian Mbappe. The 32-year-old from Borussia Monchengladbach had already a family celebration in the middle of the tournament when he became a father for the second time.
Defeat will inevitably raise speculation about the future of Didier Deschamps as national coach, especially now that Zinedine Zidane is unemployed in the wings after leaving Real Madrid.
Deschamps gambled on abandoning his usual four-man defensive line and going to three at the back for the round of 16 tie.
The French, runners-up as European hosts five years ago, enjoyed most of the attacking play in the first half yet found themselves 1-0 down at the interval after Steven Zuber set up a 15th-minute headed goal from Haris Seferovic.
France sought to recover. Kylian Mbappe thrashed one shot high and wide after having a free kick blocked and then Adrien Rabiot thundered a long drive narrowly wide of keeper Yann Sommer’s left-hand post.
At half-time Deschamps reverted man to a four-man back line but still proved fragile. In the 55th minute Zuber was felled by Benjamin Pavard and Argentinian referee Fernando Rapallini ordered a penalty after being advised by VAR to look at the pitchside screen.
Ricardo Rodriguez stepped up to take the kick but his left-foot effort was hesitant and French goalkeeper-captain Hugo Lloris dived right to push the ball away.
Immediately France counter-attacked and Mbappe’s delicate through ball was brilliantly flipped forward and then into the net by Benzema for an equaliser.
Just over one minute more and Mbappe’s backheel freed Antoine Griezmann whose chip over keeper Sommer’s hands was headed home by Benzema from beneath the crossbar. Switzerland had gone from 1-0 up to 2-1 down in four minutes and Pogba further fuelled their distress with a magnificently-struck third goal in the 75th minute.
At this point France, with their wealth of experience, should have been able to shut the game down.
Not so. Instead, the Swiss staged a dramatic comeback of their own. Seferovic headed a second goal in the 81st minute from a cross by Kevin Mbabu then substitute Mario Gavranovic, having had one ‘goal’ disallowed for offside, levelled right on fulltime.
In extra-time France were closest to breaking the deadlock. In the first half Pavard had a shot tipped over the bar by Sommer; in the second half Mbappe sliced a shot wide on the run and substitute Olivier Giroud saw a last-minute header plucked out of the air by the ultimately defiant Sommer.
And so to penalties.
Granit Xhaka, Switzerland captain: “It’s amazing. We made history tonight and we are all very proud. We wrote the history of this footballing nation. Now we have Spain in the quarters. It will be difficult but we are dreaming now.”
Yann Sommer, Switzerland goalkeeper: “What a match! What an evening of football! It was our chance to finally go through the round of 16 because we never made it before. It’s incredible – we played with heart and with character. It was a really difficult situation for us after the penalty miss. I’m really proud of the team, how they came back. We always believed.”
Hugo Lloris, France captain and goalkeeper: “We’re not looking for excuses. The regret, if we can have one, is that we led 3-1. In recent years we have known how to shut up shop. We went through every emotion possible and honestly that was football the way we like it. The two goals we conceded in the last quarter of an hour really hurt us.”
Raphaël Varane, France defender: “It’s hugely disappointing. We completely messed up our first half. We reacted in the second half but then left them space and they came back. Penalties are a lottery. We could have scored in extra time as we had the chances to do that.”
France: Lloris – Varane, Lenglet (Coman 46, Thuram 111), Kimpembe – Pavard, Pogba, Kanté, Rabiot – Griezmann (Sissoko 88) – Mbappé, Benzema (Giroud 94).
Switzerland: Sommer – Elvedi, Akanji, Rodríguez (Mehmedi 87) – Widmer (Mbabu 73), Freuler, Xhaka, Zuber (Fassnacht 79) – Shaqiri (Gavranović 73) – Embolo (Vargas 79), Seferović (Schär 97).
Penalties (Switzerland first): Gavranovic 1-0, Pogba 1-1; Schar 2-1, Giroud 2-2; Akanji 3-2, Thuram 3-3; Vargas 4-3, Kimpembe 4-4; Mehmedi 5-4, Mbappe saved 5-4.