Sport

'We wake up from the dream' — Swiss prove their worth on big stage

'We wake up from the dream' — Swiss prove their worth on big stage

Switzerland have in recent times been that team people were surprised to see so high in the Fifa rankings, but this summer they have proven their worth on the big stage, having made history at the European Championship.

Since 2012, Switzerland have been no lower than 16th in the Fifa world rankings, often above football nations that they might not be expected to top. They now sit in 13th place, one below Germany and three spots above the Netherlands.

Qualification for the World Cup and Euros has not been a problem, and they have reached the finals in eight of the last nine tournaments since 2004. But getting past the last-16 stage has not come easy.

That all changed this summer, in style. A first major tournament quarterfinal since 1954, when they hosted the World Cup, ended in disappointment against Spain. But their shock last-16 victory over world champions France will live long in the memory.

France were in cruise control and had, it seemed, finally hit top gear in the tournament, 3-1 up with 15 minutes to go and in command, with the Swiss looking dead and buried.

Not only was the spirit on show impressive when storming back to 3-3 against the world champions, but the quality of the two goals — Haris Seferovic’s bullet header and Mario Gavranovic’s fine finish — were worthy of a side of the Swiss’ ranking.

It gave Switzerland somewhat of a free hit against Spain, as they were again firm favourites to be knocked out in St Petersburg. Nevertheless, Vladimir Petkovic’s side once again dug deeper than most to take their illustrious opponents all the way to penalties, despite having had a man sent off following Xherdan Shaqiri’s equaliser.

Goalkeeper Yann Sommer could not perform the heroics he did against the French again as Spain progressed after the shoot-out, but the Swiss exited knowing that they had done all they could.

“We wake up from the dream”, declared Swiss broadcaster RSI after their shoot-out defeat.

Petkovic has not always been a popular coach, despite being in his job since 2014, with key players — Seferovic and Granit Xhaka specifically — much maligned during the Petkovic era, even earlier in Euro 2020.

The France game changed all that. Seferovic’s double helped peg Les Bleus back, while Xhaka controlled the midfield at times, even in the face of such talented adversaries in Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.

Xhaka’s absence against Spain was a blow, but the Swiss did not let that hold them back.

“Penalties are a bit 50:50,” Shaqiri said after the match. “I think we just lacked a little bit of luck today. I’m just really proud of the team.”

With renewed confidence that they can compete on the big stage, the team have made a whole country proud this summer, too.