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Swiss juniors back on track

Ricardo Cabanas, Alexander Frei and Daniel Gygax after the second goal for the Swiss team

(Keystone)

Switzerland's under-21 football team have got their European Championship campaign back on track with an impressive 2-0 win over Portugal.

Although Switzerland were supposedly enjoying home advantage, the setting for Monday's match was more akin to Lisbon than Zurich.

Bathed in blazing sunshine, the Hardturm stadium appeared to have been annexed for 90 minutes by Switzerland's large Portuguese community who outsung and seemed to even outnumbered the home fans.

First half struggle

The large vocal support and bountiful Portuguese flags appeared to do the trick in motivating the visitors during the first half as Switzerland's young strikers struggled to muster a single decent shot on goal.

Portugal, on the other hand, created several great chances including two shots that were denied only by the woodwork. Benfica forward Miguel was the first man to miss out, bursting through the Swiss defence only to see his subsequent lob rebound off the top of Nicolas Beney's crossbar.

On the half-hour mark Hugo Viana then drove in a fierce free-kick from 25 metres out, which Beney did well to push onto the post.

Portuguese carelessness

Fortunately for Switzerland the second half was an entirely different affair, although it took a moment of carelessness in the Portuguese defence to put the home team in front.

With half an hour of the match remaining St Gallen midfielder Reto Zanni was bundled over in the penalty area while jumping for a Remo Meyer free-kick.

Norwegian referee Tom Ovrebo had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, from where moments later Swiss captain Ricardo Cabanas made it 1-0.

Further Portuguese pressure followed, but within 15 minutes Switzerland had doubled their lead.

This time Cabanas was the provider, floating in a well-weighted free-kick for senior team colleague Alex Frei to head home.

In the 17 minutes that followed, Portugal sought desperately for a way back, but the Swiss defence and Beney in particular kept them at bay.

The final whistle prompted plenty of jubilant cheering in the Swiss sections of the crowd which even the vocal visitors couldn't manage to drown out.

Monday's impressive result has ensured that the Swiss still have the chance of a semi-final spot in their own hands. Whatever happens in the other remaining matches, Switzerland know they can make sure of a place in the semi-finals by beating Italy in their final group game on Wednesday.

by Mark Ledsom, Zurich


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