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Swiss celebrate Euro success

Hakan Yakin celebrates his goal against Ireland Keystone Archive

Switzerland’s national football team has qualified for the finals of the European Championships, after a sensational 2-0 win over Ireland.

Saturday’s victory saw Switzerland clinch top spot in their qualifying group to earn a place in the tournament finals for only the second ever time.

Eight years to the day after securing a berth at the 1996 event, Switzerland upset the odds with a hard-fought but deserved victory against the highly-rated Irish team.

Playing in front of a sell-out 31,006 crowd at Basel’s St Jakob Stadium, the Swiss enjoyed a dream start with star midfielder Hakan Yakin firing his team ahead in only the sixth minute.

Köbi Kuhn’s men came under increased pressure from the visitors after that but kept Ireland’s shooting chances to a minimum with some disciplined defending.

Needing a win to have any chance of qualifying themselves, Ireland continued to press forward in the second half, but Switzerland coped well and looked equally dangerous on the break.

Eight minutes after the restart, Raphaël Wickey was unlucky to see a long-range strike bounce back off the Irish crossbar. But the Hamburg winger fared better on the hour mark when a well-timed pass picked out the head of veteran striker Stéphane Chapuisat.

Chapuisat, one of the few Swiss players to have also been involved in the Euro 96 campaign, forced a great reflex save out of Irish keeper Shay Given but rising Swiss star Alex Frei was able to drive the loose ball into the net and double Switzerland’s lead.

As the game moved into the closing stages, Ireland could produce little to worry the increasingly confident Swiss crowd and the final whistle was greeted with a massive roar by the Basel crowd as Switzerland completed an unlikely double over an Irish side currently ranked 14th in the world.

As well as assuring Switzerland of a place at next year’s finals in Portugal, Saturday’s milestone win offers further evidence of an upturn in the country’s footballing fortunes, with the senior team following up on a number of impressive achievements by the juniors.

Last year, Switzerland’s under-17 side clinched their age group’s European title, with the under-21s then going on to reach the European semi-finals. Since the senior side are already guaranteed a place at Euro 2008 as co-hosts with Austria, the country’s football fans can now look ahead to at least five years of high level competition.

The latest triumph also adds to an amazingly successful year for Swiss sport in general, following the landlocked country’s stunning triumph in the America’s Cup sailing competition and the triumph of tennis star Roger Federer at Wimbledon.

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Basel

Hakan Yakin scored in the 6th minute.
Alex Frei secured Swiss success in the 60th.
Saturday’s win marks the second time Switzerland has qualified for the European Championships.
Russia came second in Group 10 and will compete in a playoff match.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR