BERLIN: All over for the champions. Italy slithered out of the 2014 European Championship 2-0 to Switzerland in the opening Round of 16 clash in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin – where they won the World Cup 18 years ago.

The Azzurri’s three-year reign was the shortest in Euro history since they had been crowned in 2021 after the finals had been delayed 12 months because of the Covid pandemic. The inevitable inquest will focus on repeated changes of shape but, beyond all that, they slipped out of the tournament with barely a whimper.

Ruben Vargas in attack, Manuel Akanji in defence and hard-working captain Granit Xhaka were probably the most outstanding individuals in a first-class Swiss team performance which delivered a first victory over their southern neighbours in 12 matches over 30 years, since the managerial reign of Roy Hodgson.

In 2021 Switzerland beat France on penalties in the Round of 16 but this was much more convincing. Next stop Dusseldorf and England or Slovakia.

Switzerland dominated the first half and went ahead deservedly through a left-foot volley by Remo Freuler after 37 minutes. Some 27 seconds into the second half Italy gave away the ball from kickoff and Ruben Vargas curled a shot into the top left-hand corner of Gianluigi Donnarumma’s goal.

Italy, who had endured all sorts of difficulties since beating England on penalties at Wembley, had been far from their best in the group stage but efficient enough to come back from a goal down to beat Albania and snatch a draw with Croatia.

However they lacked pace and cohesion in the first half and missed the personality and drive of the suspended Riccardo Calafiori.

Winger Bree Embolo could have opened the scoring for Switzerland in the 27th minute but hesitated, fearing offside. That gave Donnarumma an extra moment to judge the angle and save. At the other end, in a rare Italian raid, Stephan El Sharaawy had a shot blocked by Akanji.

Switzerland then seized the lead when Freuler converted a Vargas assist and Fabian Rieder was denied a second, from a free kick wide on the right, only by the reflexes of Donnarumma who pushed the ball against his left-hand post.

Italy allowed themselves to be caught out by the ever-dangerous Vargas at the start of the second half but the Swiss almost dented their own extended lead when Fabian Schar headed against his own post.

Both coaches freshened up their teams with early substitutions in the heat and Italy finally pushed forward with more intensity. They might have pulled one goal back in the 75th minute but Gianluca Scamacca’s touch from a flick by the newly-arived Mattia Zaccagni hit the outside of Yann Sommer’s right hand post.

A goal then could have given Italy a glimmer of hope; they would not have deserved it.

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