Saint Etienne loves making history. Beyond Hervé Revelli, Michel Platini and Les Verts’ European Cup heroics of the 1970s, this atmospheric corner of the Loire valley has carved itself a reputation in internationals.
Eighteen years after Argentina knocked out England out of the World Cup on penalties in the last knockout tie here, Poland beat Switzerland in the same manner to become the first team in Euro 2016’s quarter-finals.
Granit Xhaka’s sliced spot-kick, the only one of 10 missed, proved decisive in a game that the Swiss bossed for the closing stages, inspired by Xherdan Shaqiri.
Both sides had progressed from the group stage of this competition for the first time but there was little even about the opening exchanges. The tone was set inside 30 seconds, when Arkadiusz Milik scooped a glorious opportunity over an unguarded net for Poland after a horrible mix-up between Yann Sommer and Johan Djourou.
The busy Milik quickly had a clutch of other chances – he was most culpable when slashing one shot wide at the far post after Jakub Blaszczykowski found him – and there were animated discussions on the pitch between various Swiss players after an opening 20 minutes in which Poland totally dominated. Grzegorz Krychowiak and Kamil Grosicki also passed up inviting openings for Adam Nawalka’s side.
Switzerland created fleeting moments of their own, and Fabian Schär headed one clear chance straight at Lukasz Fabianski. The problem was that every time they lost the ball in the opposition half, they were struggling to contain a counterattack seconds later.
One of those fast breaks finally undid Switzerland as the half entered its closing stages. Fabianski gathered a corner and threw out to Grosicki, who advanced half the length of the pitch on the left side before crossing. Milik smartly dummied and Blaszczykowski was in plenty of space at the back post to slot under Sommer. It was a sweet moment for the former captain, who has endured a frustrating season on loan at Fiorentina from Dortmund but now had a second goal in two games.
There was a strong Swiss reaction in the immediate aftermath of the interval, led by Shaqiri, who saw Fabianski push away his left-foot drive, though Robert Lewandowski – largely occupying a slightly deeper role behind Milik – did manage to land a first shot on target of the tournament, three and a half games in, which Sommer fielded neatly.
Having scored just twice in their three group games, Switzerland needed to gamble to get back into the match, and Vladimir Petkovic sent on a second striker, the teenager Breel Embolo, to play alongside Haris Seferovic. By the 70-minute mark a third, Eren Derdiyok, had joined them but it was from a dead ball that they next threatened, with Ricardo Rodríguez curling in a trademark effort than Fabianski had to stretch to tip over.
Finally Petkovic’s striker lottery almost did pay dividends in the 79th minute but while Seferovic’s drive was as cleanly struck as could be, it flew back off the crossbar after beating Fabianski. It looked as if time was running out but then the mercurial Shaqiri produced a moment of real magic. The Stoke midfielder pirouetted in mid-air and sent a breathtaking bicycle kick right into the corner of Fabianski’s goal, celebrating with an only marginally-less acrobatic somersault.
Extra-time began tentatively but that changed in the second period as the Swiss found an extra gear, forcing a succession of corners, with Shaqiri again prompting. One sublime delivery found Derdiyok, but Fabianski reacted sharply to tip away his header. It proved vital, as Poland held on to find a way through.
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