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Football juniors keep Euro dream alive

No goals but plenty to celebrate

(Keystone)

Switzerland's under-21 football team have earned an unexpected place in the European Championship semi-finals after holding the defending champions of Italy to a goal-less draw.

Despite the lack of goals, Wednesday's match in front of a sell-out 30,000-strong crowd was a generally exciting one, and by the end there was also an impressive achievement to celebrate.

With group A rivals England suffering a surprise 3-1 defeat to Portugal over in Zurich, the draw in Basel was enough to send both Italy and Switzerland into the final four.

Scary moments

Just as in their first two group games against England and Portugal, the Swiss faced some scary moments early on with defender Stéphane Grichting having to clear one goalbound shot off the line after less than two minutes of play.

Switzerland gained more of the possession after that but still it was the Italians who had the best of the early chances and it took an outstanding double save from Nicolas Beney to deny both Massimo Maccarone and Vicenzo Iaquinta in the 23rd minute.

As the first half came to a close, however, the Swiss seemed to grow in confidence with Alex Frei, Ricardo Cabanas and Alain Rochat all causing hearts to flutter in the Italian-dominated west stand.

Hesitant second half

The second half was a much less thrilling affair with both sides seeming hesitant to risk too much. By the closing stages, both teams were also well aware of the scoreline over in Zurich and the Basel game turned into a somewhat collaborative kick-about.

That slightly unsporting behaviour drew whistles from both sets of supporters but once the final whistle had been blown all in the ground were able to enjoy a joint celebration.

The joys of youth

Even with the added advantage of being tournament hosts, the Swiss team's performance levels in their first ever European finals have been astonishing, with Wednesday's draw coming just two days after Switzerland's battling 2-0 win over the Portuguese.

The latest milestone of reaching the semi-finals continues an impressive month for junior Swiss football, following the under-17's incredible European title triumph in Denmark.

If Challandes' men are to stretch their own impressive run into the under-21 final, however, they will now have to overcome a daunting-looking French side in Saturday's semi-final back in Basel's St Jakob stadium.

by Mark Ledsom, Basel


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