Switzerland's under-21 football team have missed out on a place in the European Championship final after losing 2-0 to France in Basel.
Playing against the tournament's hot favourites, Bernard Challandes' young team put in another creditable performance but were unable to recover following the controversial dismissal of central defender Stephan Keller shortly before half-time.
"I think it would have been interesting to see how the match would have gone if we hadn't lost Keller," Challandes said after seeing his defender sent off in the 41st minute for two yellow cards in the space of a minute. "The French goals were magnificent and I accept that they are technically superior to us, but we always seemed to come off worst in the refereeing decisions."
Early French pressure
The French certainly had much the better of Saturday's first half and could have taken an early lead if Lyon team-mates Peguy Luyindula and Sydney Govou had done better with a string of half-chances. A superb save by Nicolas Beney in the Swiss goal also saw Rennes midfielder Olivier Sorlin denied at point-blank range.
As the half wore on Switzerland did manage some threatening counter-attacks of their own, but the home side's hopes were dealt what proved to be a fatal blow with Keller's expulsion.
While both the defender's tackles were on the heavy side, neither appeared to be malicious and Keller was adamant afterwards that he should have been allowed to stay on the pitch.
"The second tackle was a foul, I came in a little late," Keller admitted to swissinfo, "but I don't think I deserved the first yellow card."
"It was decisive," Keller added, "because even though the team carried on battling they were losing energy and it was just a matter of time before we conceded our first goal."
France certainly came into the second half with all guns blazing, and were unlucky to see a Luyindula shot rebound off the Swiss goalpost just five minutes after the restart.
Finally, though, the French saw their huge share of the possession and one-man advantage rewarded. With just over an hour played, Fulham midfielder Steed Malbranque spun skilfully in the area before flicking the ball past a stranded Beney.
Eight minutes later, Beney was helpless once again as Sorlin took revenge for his earlier missed opportunity, this time cutting in from the left before cracking the ball in from outside the area.
Either side of Sorlin's goal the Swiss team had three good chances of their own to score but Swiss captain Ricardo Cabanas, his senior team colleague Alex Frei and Young Boys striker Johan Berisha all missed out.
France's performance throughout the match made them more than worthy of their place in the final, but Keller's sending-off is bound to leave a sour taste in the mouths of the Swiss team as they contemplate a heart-breaking end to their impressive European campaign.
But the French can now look forward to Tuesday's final back in Basel with four consecutive wins behind them. They will go head-to-head with the Czech Republic, who booked their place in the final by seeing off the reigning champions, Italy, 3-2 in Saturday's second semi-final.
by Mark Ledsom, Basel