They initially came back 3-1 in the dying minutes of regulation time, then dug deep to qualify for the penalty shoot-out. And with their first five penalties converted to lead 5-4, Kylian Mbappe’s whipped effort was greeted by a solid hand from Yann Sommer. The wait to confirm the stoppage’s legitimacy seemed to go on for an age, but Sommer’s left foot was on the line, celebrations erupted and a superb football Monday had the most spectacular end.
The reward for Switzerland is a quarter-final meeting with Spain on Friday, but also the exorcism of a developing hexagon. That made them four consecutive majors to come out of the group stages after falling to the first hurdles of the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, and Euro 2016. Although they did stumble here at times, they finally made the jump. .
The glory of head coach Vladimir Petkovic lived up to the dismay of Didier Deschamps. Both totally unexpected but, all in all, deserved. The French came, but the Swiss turned it on.
Having a round of 16 game ending 3-3 normally from what looked like a 3-1 done and dusted off can be seen as a blessing. Having two in the same day, well, I’m not sure if there’s a word for that. But Switzerland took a page from Croatia’s book to get out of their discomfort in the 81st minute.
This here in Bucharest was certainly the most impressive rescue operation. Because for that to happen, Switzerland had to defeat their own demons in the game. They held a 1-0 lead thanks to Haris Seferovic’s header in the first half, and just seven minutes after the start of the second. , they had the opportunity to go 2-0 on the spot.
However, Ricardo Rodriguez’s strike down right from Hugo Lloris was expertly maintained. And then, in less than four minutes, Karim Benzema arrived.
A superb catch and dink on Sommer leveled things before a point blank header in the 59th minute after Antoine Griezmann’s dink was knocked down by the Swiss keeper. France, now at their best, then increased the score to 3-1 when Paul Pogba rolled up a stunner in the over 30-yard corner.
We all expected to see a different France here. The scorched earth mavericks who took it easy at first, leading the death group and yet disappointing at the same time. Beat Hungary, a few draws against Germany and Portugal. Everything to go to the end where it matters most.
And yet, they were just as dumb for most of the first hour. Admittedly, Deschamps had injuries to deal with, doing so with a 3-5-2 to alleviate issues that seemed to affect left-handed and footed players exclusively.
Adrien Rabiot first replaced the left back, with Benjamin Pavard on the other side. It was clear that the five defenders in the starting XI were going to do just that. Disappointing for the show, but understandable from Deschamps, who almost thanked the injuries for checking French optimism, saying his star-studded formation “shouldn’t underestimate” the Swiss.
Well, they did. Beyond Mbappe’s frills flowing to the left, Benzema brooding around the box and Griezmann trying to bring them together, the Swiss were flawless. Defensively healthy and, most importantly, patient when pushing forward.
They did the latter with immense poise, scratching the ball decisively through Granit Xhaka, contributing to the smoothest elements of the first half.
Seferovic’s first game was the epitome of their technical and mental skills. The distance striker’s effort was calmly returned to Steven Zuber on the left, who created enough space to place a perfect cross in the middle of the box. Seferovic had raced, accompanied by a bump that Clement Lenglet wore as badly as white socks with a suit, towering his head beyond Lloris.
The disarticulation of France was only going to be accentuated by continuing the match. There is something very American football about them: offensive and defensive teams within the XI operating independently of each other. So when Kingsley Coman replaced Lenglet, the areas to be mined for Switzerland increased.
It only took one man to do it. Zuber’s stop-and-go sprint to the left took him from the Swiss half of the field, to the white line of the French penalty area. Pavard’s tackle was awkward, Zuber’s immediate jump to his feet noble. But a second look at VAR gave Switzerland the clear free kick.
Then came the compound shots: Rodriguez’s miss, Benzema’s one-two, Pogba’s lick on the postage stamp and an impending French flex for the final 15 minutes.
But Seferovic once again exerted his aerial dominance, throwing himself in the path of Kevin Mbabu’s cross from the right to raise the tension. And when Gavranovic had the ball in the net for the first time in 85e minute, the assistant referee’s correct offside call was like a reminder that lightning doesn’t strike twice.
Again, it’s football. And with Pogba dispossessed on the halfway line, Xhaka found Gavranovic, who kept his cool to create extra space and shoot low and faithfully to take us into extra time. Regulation time wasn’t quite over, however, as Coman hit the bar with the final action of four minutes of added time.
Unlike the previous match, it was the rear group that intensified for the second half. Croatia’s lack of legs that contributed to Spain’s 5-3 final victory was at odds with Switzerland’s training, characterized by Xhaka continuing to dominate regulation time.
Much like his opponent, Pogba, who appeared to have won the clearest opening when he passed Mbappe in the second half of extra time. But the Paris Saint-Germain speedster opted to let the bowl roll to his left rather than pick it up early with his right, rippling outside the side net to continue the steady progression towards penalties.
Of course, as Mbappe moved on, the casual body language experts had a busy day. The aimless wonder of this do or die kick tournament? Even redemption at most wouldn’t have been enough for a player who may only be 22 but is already overwhelmed with discussions about the greatness of his greatness. For those who cast shade, here is water at the mill.
The irony is that his penalty was the softest of his shots of the night. And it will be one of his most memorable, alongside his goal in the 2018 World Cup final. The chosen winners were bluntly toppled. As deserving of an end for them as the beginning of a fairy tale for Switzerland.