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Tough start for Swiss youngsters

West Ham's Jermain Defoe slots home the ball for England after four minutes of play

(Keystone)

Switzerland's under-21 football side have suffered a narrow 2-1 defeat against England in their opening European Championship match.

The Swiss youngsters, who are also hosting this year's event, put in a surprisingly strong performance against one of the tournament favourites, but were unable to bounce back from a terrible start to Friday's game.

With less than four minutes played Bernard Challandes' team were already a goal down.

Many of the 15,000 supporters in Zurich's Hardturm stadium were still taking to their seats when Arsenal winger Jermaine Pennant swung in a well-weighted cross for West Ham striker Jermaine Defoe to smash past Nicolas Beney in the Swiss goal.

Forced onto the back foot almost from the off, Switzerland responded well with a series of worthy counter-attacks. Senior team stars Ricardo Cabanas and Alex Frei all had good chances to equalise from close range, while Young Boys' forward Johann Berisha went agonisingly close shortly before the break.

Swiss chances

On the whole though it was the visiting team that continued to look the most threatening and with just eight minutes gone in the second half the English were 2-0 up.

A free-kick on the edge of the area taken by England captain David Dunn ricocheted around the Swiss defence before being deftly flicked goalwards by towering Aston Villa striker Peter Crouch.

If England thought their hosts were done in, though, they hadn't reckoned on Alex Frei. Having already proven himself at full international level for Switzerland, the Servette Geneva striker cracked in an unstoppable free-kick in the 58th minute to revive the home nation's hopes.

Those hopes soared in the remaining minutes of the match as Frei, Cabanas, Berisha and Elvir Melunovic all had great chances to equalise.

But despite the roaring support of the Zurich crowd, the Swiss youngsters couldn't get back on level terms.

"I thought we were very unlucky tonight," Swiss defender Stephan Keller told swissinfo afterwards. "We knew England were strong, we'd watched them on video but we still thought we could get a result against them.

"We're a little down today," Keller added. "I think you have to change your profession if you don't get down after a defeat. But tomorrow we can start to recharge our batteries and I'm sure we'll come back on Monday."

It may have ended in a 2-1 defeat, but Friday's performance will certainly be seen as further testament to the growing strengths of Swiss junior football.

With no actual points to show for their efforts though, Challandes' boys will likely now need a win against Portugal in that second match on Monday if the unlikely dream of European glory is to be sustained.

by Mark Ledsom, Zurich


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