An anaemic Switzerland have been beaten 2-0 by Wales in the seventh of eight qualification matches for the 2012 European Football Championship.
Despite conceding goals from Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale in the 60th and 71st minutes, the Swiss would still have been all right as long as England, playing at the same time, beat Montenegro.
If that were the case, all eyes would turn to the crucial match in Basel on Tuesday between Switzerland and Montenegro. A victory there would see Switzerland qualify for the play-offs.
Unfortunately for the Swiss, an injury-time equaliser for Montenegro on Friday means the Swiss are out and will not have a chance of travelling to Poland and Ukraine in June.
The Swiss players and manager Ottmar Hitzfeld knew that, whatever happened, they had to at least equal the result of Montenegro, who in fact started against group leaders England 15 minutes after the kick-off in Swansea.
Hitzfeld – and any Swiss fan in the stadium with a radio – would have been pleased to hear England take a quick 2-0 lead in Podgorica, but a Montenegrin goal just before half-time would have had them shifting uneasily in their seats. If Montenegro could force a draw, Switzerland could not afford to lose…
This possibility, against a team ranked 90th in the world, 72 places beneath the Swiss, became a worrying reality in the 60th minute when Welsh captain Aaron Ramsey squirted the ball under Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio from the penalty spot.
Timm Klose had brought down Chris Gunter in the area, five minutes after the Swiss had been reduced to ten men when Reto Ziegler showed his studs to the luckless Gunter.
Things got worse for the Swiss, not only when Gareth Bale put the Welsh two ahead in the 71st minute, but when Wayne Rooney was sent off for England in the 73rd minute.
Montenegro dominated the rest of that game and had several chances, finally scoring in the 91st minute to stun the Swiss, watching in their dressing room. The final score was 2-2.
Switzerland have only themselves to blame. Solid favourites with the bookmakers going into the match, they were outplayed by a bottom-of-the-group Wales who were playing for pride, having no chance to qualify for the last 16.
This was a different Swiss eleven to the side that beat Bulgaria 3-1 a month ago. Nineteen-year-old Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored a stunning hat-trick that night to boost Swiss confidence, was invisible.
Where was the necessary discipline, dynamism and coordination? Not in Swansea.
“On the one hand it’s obviously very bitter that we couldn’t muster a performance like the one against Bulgaria, that we couldn’t even get one point and that we were robbed of a decisive game,” Ottmar Hitzfeld said.
“In offence there were a few problems, the game down the wings wasn’t optimal and we didn’t threaten the opponents’ goal enough. We had bad luck for a few minutes with the red card and the penalty.”
Hitzfeld added that at half-time he had told his players they needed to push forward with more energy.
Defender Stephan Lichtsteiner talked of a “funny aftertaste” and of “certain questions” why two such important games hadn’t kicked off at the same time.
“We started relatively well, tried to take control of the game,” he said. “In the second half it was extremely difficult after the red card. It was just stupid. We now want to say thanks to our fans with a good performance on Tuesday.”
Lack of dynamism
Reaching the play-offs, which will be held in mid-November, would have been a good result for the Swiss, who a year ago were looking in real trouble, having notched up only four points from four games.
As it turns out, the match against Montenegro in Basel on Tuesday will be nothing more than a meaningless friendly.
But if Switzerland win that match, they will rue their absence of spirit tonight – and the presence of so much of it among a Montenegro team who fought back from two goals down against a country whose population is a hundred times its own.
“We now have to process this together,” Hitzfeld concluded.
Switzerland: Benaglio; Lichtsteiner, Von Bergen, Klose, Ziegler; Inler, Behrami; Shaqiri (62. Rodriguez), Xhaka (81. Mehmedi), Fabian Frei (71. Emeghara); Derdiyok.
Wales: Hennessy; Gunter, Blake, Williams, Taylor; Croft (81. Vaughn); Bale, Allen, Ramsey, Bellamy; Morison (81. Church).End of insertion
Current Group G standing (matches played/wins/ draws/losses/goals for-against):
1. England 8 5 3 0 17:5
2. Montenegro 7 3 3 1 7:5 12
3. Switzerland 7 2 2 3 10:10
4. Wales 7 2 0 5 5:10 6
5. Bulgaria 7 1 2 4 3:12
5End of insertion
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