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Swiss hopes hit by Slovenia defeat

Switzerland's Stéphane Henchoz (centre) fights for the ball during Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Slovenia in Basel Keystone

Switzerland's hopes of reaching football's World Cup finals suffered a hammer blow on Wednesday with the national team losing 1-0 at home to Slovenia

This content was published on June 6, 2001 - 23:58

A rare mistake by Stéphane Henchoz in the closing stages of the game was to cost Switzerland dearly. With just seven minutes remaining the Liverpool defender played a weak back pass which Slovenian substitute Sebastijan Cimirotic pounced on before easily tucking the ball past Marco Pascolo in the Swiss goal.

"Perhaps it was lack of concentration," Henchoz admitted to swissinfo after the final whistle, "because I thought it would be easy just to hit the ball back with my left foot to Pascolo, but instead I gave it to the Slovenian striker."

"It's a real shame," Henchoz added, "because I don't think we deserved to lose. We had some really good chances, but couldn't score. And then in the end my mistake cost us the game."

Cimirotic's opportunist certainly strike certainly came as harsh punishment for Switzerland who had enjoyed the lion's share of possession up until that point.

In the first half Enzo Trossero's men had been full of energy but somewhat lacking in ideas. With the majority of the Slovenian team happy to stick in their own half, the Swiss side dominated play but were rarely able to threaten the visitors' goal.

In midfield Sébastien Fournier more than justified his selection at the expense of Ciriaco Sforza, but the striking partnership of Alex Frei and Blaise N'Kufo failed to take flight with Frei in particular missing at least two good opportunities.

The second half saw Slovenia take a more attacking approaching and Pascolo did well in the 68th minute to collect a bullet header from Porto striker Miran Pavlin.

But still Switzerland appeared to be in control. After coming on as a substitute, Sforza laid a wonderful through pass at the feet of N'Kufo, only for the latter to dip his shot narrowly over the bar.

With quarter of an hour left, Henchoz had a chance to be the hero, but his header flashed wide of the Slovenians' goal.

So instead it was at the other end of the pitch that Henchoz was, unwillingly, to make the most impact, his late mistake leaving Switzerland with no way back and allowing Slovenia to leap above them in the qualifying group.

Wednesday's other results also made for miserable reading in Switzerland. Russia consolidated their place at the top of the group with a 2-1 away win over Luxembourg, while Yugoslavia celebrated a 6-0 rout of the Faroe Islands.

With his team stranded in third place, two points behind Slovenia and with Yugoslavia closing in, Trossero knows that Switzerland must now fight extremely hard if they're to have any chance of reaching the World Cup finals.

"There's still all chance of qualifying though," Trossero insisted on Wednesday, "because we still have direct matches to play against Yugoslavia and Russia. But in this game against Slovenia we missed a good chance to pull clear of our biggest rivals."

by Mark Ledsom, Basel

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