News that Switzerland’s Under-21s had progressed to the final of the Uefa European Football Championship was greeted with euphoria by Thursday's press.
The team, which has not conceded a goal throughout the tournament, progressed after defeating the Czech Republic 1-0 in the semifinal in Denmark on Wednesday night.
Striker Admir Mehmedi scored the winning goal for Switzerland in the 114th minute of the match.
Switzerland, which also qualified for the 2012 London Olympics with the win, will face Spain in the final on Saturday.
“We were the best. I think we played a great match!” said Swiss midfielder and man of the match Xherdan Shaqiri after the game.
Shaqiri opened proceedings in the fifth minute of the match, taking the ball from the centre circle and driving straight at the Czech line of defense before shooting just wide of the goal.
But early dynamics were misleading with the match soon flattening into deadlock against stubborn Czech resistance.
Switzerland rallied late in the second half with a tight shot on goal from Mehmedi that failed to get past Czech defender Tomas Vaclik.
And in the 89th minute, a strike from Shaqiri hit the post, ensuring the match went into extra time.
"We were clearly the better side, we had more ball possession. We were the ones who tried more. I think we deserved to be in the final come the end of the game,” said Shaqiri.
With just six minutes left in extra time, Mehmedi, slammed the ball into the goal from 22 metres out.
“I just tried it and the ball simply went into the goal,” the FC Zurich striker laughingly told Swiss television.
“Mehmedi, a goal for paradise!” ran the headline on French-language daily Le Matin.
Zurich-based German language newspaper the Tages-Anzeiger called the Swiss team the “deserved winners” in what it said was “certainly not a pretty game” during which the Czech team were sanctioned more than 40 times for technical fouls.
“It took a stroke of genius in extra time,” said the paper. “The Czechs did little for the game, but left little to chance in extra time and were several times close to achieving a ‘lucky punch’.”
The paper praised the young Swiss team for mastering their nerves in a game which went somewhat less smoothly that the team’s group stage matches.
“They had the necessary patience to wait for the opportunity and above all, were confident enough to know that this would come sooner or later,” said the Tages-Anzeiger.
Quoted in the Basler Zeitung, Swiss coach Pierluigi Tami said: “We always think positive and we always play to win”.
The Swiss are sure to need all the positive energy they can muster when they front favourites Spain in Saturday’s final, with the hopes of a nation resting on the shoulders of the young team.
“Sensational! Switzerland is in the European Championship final, where on Saturday Spain is waiting for us. Spain is the favourite but now everything is possible!” gushed the German-language tabloid Blick.
European champions in 1986 and 1998, Spain were also forced into extra time after Belarus’ Andrei Voronkov equalised the semifinal at 1-1 with a goal in the 89th minute, also played on Wednesday.
Colloquially knows as La Rojita (The Little Red One), the team fought back with a goal from Jeffren Suarez in the 113th minute sealing victory for the Spaniards.
“We have the potential to beat Spain,” said Shaqiri. “We’re not favourites, so we can play freely in the final. It’s an important thing for us to be in the final.
"It’s a great opportunity. I think the whole of Switzerland is looking forward to this game.”
The Swiss team did not concede a goal on their way to the final of the 2011 Uefa U-21 European Football Championship.
June 11: vs Denmark 1-0
June 14: vs Iceland 2-0
June 18: vs Belarus 3-0
June 22: vs Czech Republic
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