SAINT-ETIENNE: Poland became the first quarter-finalists at Euro 2016 after beating Switzerland 5-4 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 extra-time draw in the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
Granit Xhaka, in the middle of leaving Borussia Monchengladbach for Arsenal, was the luckless one player to fluff his kick, pulling Switzerland’s second kick well wide of not keeper Lukasz Fabianski but also of the keeper’s right-hand post. Poland’s decisive last kick was lashed up into the roof of Yann Sommer’s net by Sevilla’s Grzegorz Krychowiak.
The midfielder described himself as being “on cloud seven” in the euphoric moments after the match. Cloud Nine is presumably being saved for later in the tournament. Next up the Poles will face Portugal in Marseille in the first of the quarter-finals next week.
Switzerland are rapidly developing a reputation as a team of nearly men at finals tournaments. Two years ago they lost 1-0 to Argentina in extra time in the second round of the World Cup finals in Brazil; in the 2006 World Cup they lost a second round shootout 3-0 to Ukraine after a 0-0 draw in Germany.
Poland won courtesy of a more solid team performance over the 120 minutes. Switzerland ultimately paid the price for their flight home from a fragile first-half performance in which they allowed Poland to take an early lead. After that the Swiss were always in pursuit of the game, rather than ever in command of it.
Arkadiusz Milik and Krychowiak squandered early chances while Swiss defender Schar put a ‘free’ header from a corner straight into the hands of a relieved Fabianski in the 37th minute. Two minutes later Poland capitalised by taking the lead with a precise, angled shot through keeper Sommer’s legs from Jakub Blaszczykowski after a devastating counter-attacking dash by Kamil Glosicki.
The timing of the goal, just before half-time, was perfect. Poland regrouped more defensively after the interval and left it to Switzerland to expend fhe greater energy.
Fabianski coped well enough in saving safely from Xherdan Shaqiri and Ricardo Rodriguez and was fortunate when a drive from Haris Seferovic rattled the cross bar. The goalkeeper’s luck finally ran out five minutes from the end of normal when Stoke City’s Shaqiri scored with a wonderfully-judged overhead scissors kick from the edge of the penalty box.
That strike – finest goal of the finals so far – took the duel into extra time. It was as much as two tired teams could do to play out the extra half-hour. Switzerland, had they consulted the history books, might have tried to little harder to avoid their inevitable fate.