Switzerland have beaten Wales 4-1 in the third of eight qualification matches for the 2012 European Football Championship.
Both sides were without points after losing their two opening matches, and goals from Valentin Stocker in the eighth and 88th minute, Gareth Bale in the 12th, Marco Streller in the 21st and Inler in the 82nd mean Switzerland jump from bottom of their five-team group to third.
Elsewhere in Group G, Montenegro held England to a goalless draw to remain at the top of the group. Bulgaria had the night off.
Back at St Jakob Stadium in Basel, after Switzerland’s worst start in a qualification campaign for 30 years this was in reality a must-win game. Only the top two teams in each group have a chance of travelling to Poland and Ukraine in 20 months.
The match started badly for the hosts when after only seven minutes goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, who had missed last week’s defeat to Montenegro with adductor problems, couldn’t continue and was replaced by Marco Wölfli.
Swiss spirits lifted a minute later however when Valentin Stocker, a midfielder for FC Basel, headed in a loose ball bobbing around in the area. Wales’s defending reflected that of a side rated 84 in Fifa’s world rankings.
But Swiss fans were silenced four minutes later when Gareth Bale, who plays for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League, scored Wales’s first ever goal on Swiss soil. This was the sixth time the two sides had met, with Switzerland winning five times and losing once.
Switzerland carelessly gave away the ball in midfield and Bale – just onside – picked up the through ball and coolly lifted it over a helpless Wölfli.
Swiss striker scores!
In the 21st minute Marco Streller, also from FC Basel, became the first Swiss striker to score in 13 games – and 13 months.
Benefiting once again from unconvincing Welsh defence, an unmarked Streller picked up a cross from Gökhan Inler some eight metres out and scuffed his shot but nevertheless saw it wrong-foot the Welsh keeper and weakly cross the line.
Switzerland wasted several second-half chances before Welsh defender Christian Ribeiro was judged, harshly, to have fouled Tranquillo Barnetta in the area in the 82nd minute. Inler confidently converted the penalty.
Two minutes before the end Stocker scored his second, tapping in a cross from a couple of metres.
Long way to go
“The win today was a relief for all of us,” Stocker said. “The qualifying table now looks a bit better. Our performance tonight was certainly not perfect, but these goals will give us confidence.”
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld was also happy over the “hard won” victory. “We also had chances against Montenegro, but we didn’t have that little bit of luck,” he said.
Hitzfeld will know, however, that the 4-1 score line flatters Switzerland. His strikers – in particular captain Alexander Frei, who was virtually invisible on Tuesday – still look far from threatening and should have done better against a poor Welsh defence.
Switzerland’s own defenders were unconvincing and will be punished by stronger opponents.
With five matches left – two at home – and assuming England top the group, Switzerland are going to have to finish second ahead of Montenegro.
Mathematically this is certainly possible, but the Swiss are going to have to start winning more often and hope that Montenegro start losing more often.
It looks like Swiss fans are going to have to sweat it out until the final whistle of the final match, when their team takes on Montenegro – in Basel – on October 11, 2011.
Switzerland's next game is against Bulgaria on March 26.
The nine group winners and the runner-up with the best record against the top five sides in their pool qualify directly for the final tournament. The eight remaining runners-up enter the play-offs.
Current Group G standing (matches played/wins/ draws/losses/goals for-against):
1. Montenegro 4 3 1 0 3 0 10
2. England 3 2 1 0 7 1 7
3. Switzerland 3 1 0 2 5 5 3
4. Bulgaria 3 1 0 2 1 5 3
5. Wales 3 0 0 3 1 6 0
Switzerland: Benaglio (8 Wölfli); Lichtsteiner, Von Bergen, Grichting, Ziegler; Barnetta, Inler, Schwegler (90 Fernandes), Stocker; Frei (79 Derdiyok); Streller.
Wales: Hennessey; Blake (54 Ribeiro), J. Collins, Williams (76 Morison), D. Collins; Crofts, Vaughan (89 MacDonald); Edwards, King, Bale; Church.