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Swiss footballers fare no better than in 1996

The new and old heroes of the national squad - Johan Vonlanthen (left) and Kubilay Türkyilmaz Keystone

The Swiss national football team are returning home from Portugal with mixed emotions from Euro 2004.

The players led by manager Köbi Kuhn failed to do any better than those coached by Artur Jorge eight years ago in England.

Switzerland played three matches at the European football championships, scored one goal and notched up only one point.

The slim pickings from Portugal are identical to what the Swiss achieved at Euro 96 in England.

Eight years ago, the Swiss side managed a one-all draw against the host nation in the opening match of the tournament, before losing to both Holland and Scotland.

Once again the Swiss are packing their bags before the quarter-finals of the competition, leaving the “big football nations” of England and France to fight for the spoils.

“We did what we could and we will keep very good memories of this Euro championship. It was really exciting to play in stadiums which were half filled with red,” enthused captain and goalkeeper Jörg Stiel on Tuesday.

A bitter taste

But while the Swiss were not disgraced by the football they played, their Portuguese adventure nevertheless leaves a bitter taste.

The two red cards picked up by Johan Vogel against Croatia and Bernt Haas against England – as well as the “spitting affair” involving striker Alexander Frei – soured their campaign in Portugal.

In both matches, Köbi Kuhn’s men had to play much of the second half with only ten men. Frei’s case upset preparations for the decisive match against defending champions France.

The striker originally denied spitting at England midfielder Steven Gerrard and was cleared by a disciplinary panel for lack of evidence.

But footage later uncovered by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) proved that he had lied.

European football’s governing body, Uefa, suspended Frei for Monday’s game against France on the back of the new evidence.

TV debate

The incident has led to debate about the use of television pictures to penalise misdemeanours well after a match has finished.

It also caused tensions between the Swiss Football Association and the SBC – swissinfo’s parent company.

Ironically, Uefa’s suspension of the Swiss striker seems to have injected new life into Köbi Kuhn’s men against the French.

“It was very difficult to prepare for this encounter in such conditions,” regretted a visibly shaken Kuhn. “But in the end, my players showed a lot of character.”

“They reacted remarkably by rallying around Alex and concentrating fully on the game. And they took the game to the French,” he added.

End of a dream

When Switzerland booked their ticket to Portugal by beating Ireland 2-0 in Basel last October, the whole country began to dream.

That dream, however, ended on Monday night in Coimbra against Zinédine Zidane and his illustrious colleagues.

The match was the last played at international level by goalkeeper Jörg Stiel, striker Stéphane Chapuisat and midfielder Fabio Celestini. But it was also the moment for the young Johan Vonlanthen to prove that replacements are at hand.

Playing for the first time right from the start, the prodigy from PSV Eindhoven scored the only Swiss goal of the tournament. And he became the youngest goal scorer in the history of the final stages of the European football championships.

“He will give us plenty of satisfaction in the future,” predicted Kuhn.

With the retirement of Chapuisat, the injury to Marco Streller and the suspension of Frei, Vonlanthen will bear the heavy responsibility of leading the Swiss attack during the upcoming qualifying campaign for the World Cup in 2006 in Germany.

Switzerland face France, Ireland, Israel, Cyprus and the Faroe Islands in their qualifying group.

And then there is the little matter of Euro 2008, jointly hosted by Switzerland and Austria.

swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux and Doris Lucini in Praia d’El Rey.

In Portugal, Switzerland drew with Croatia (0-0), and lost to England (3-0) and France (3-1).

Group B final table:
France 7 points
England 6 points
Croatia 2 points
Switzerland 1 point.

In the quarter-finals, France will meet Greece; England take on Portugal.

With a single point from three games in Portugal, Switzerland put in an identical performance to that of eight years ago in England.

In 1996, the Swiss goal was scored from the penalty spot by Kubilay Türkyilmaz.

This year, Johan Vonlanthen netted the only Swiss goal, becoming the youngest player to score in the finals of the European Championships.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR