The morning after Switzerland's devastating exit from
UEFA EURO 2008 on home soil, shock and disbelief have given way to
a sobering realisation that the dream of becoming continental
champions has crumbled to dust just five days after the opening
match. A second group-stage defeat in Wednesday evening's
rain-soaked meeting with Turkey in Basel leaves the Swiss with no
chance of making the quarter-finals, regardless of what happen when
they face Portugal in their last outing.
It is only the second time in European Championship history that a host nation has failed to survive the first round: the dubious honour previously belonged exclusively to the Belgium team of 2000.
It all started promisingly enough on Wednesday, Hakan Yakin firing the co-hosts into a 32nd-minute lead from Eren Derdiyok's splendid build-up play. The Swiss section of the stadium erupted, but Yakin's response was muted to say the least. The man born in Basel to Turkish parents elected not to celebrate at all, echoing the actions of Polish-born Germany goal-getter Lukas Podolski, who similarly chose not to react with overt joy on scoring against his country of birth.
But there was more to it than that: the cameras failed to observe Yakin trot over to injured team captain Alexander Frei, watching from the substitute's bench, and kiss him on the head. The striker was dedicating his goal to the sorely-missed skipper, who ruptured knee ligaments in the opening match.
However, the superstitious in the crowd might feel the weather gods had it in for the Swiss on this particular evening. Were those floods of tears pouring from the heavens? Less poetically, a long and thunderous cloudburst drenched the pitch in the first half, rendering any effort at a controlled passing game futile.
"I thought a spot of rain might help us, but I didn't expect us to go in at half-time drenched to the skin," remarked Turkey boss Fatih Terim. "We had to change our tactics at the start of the second half, and did say a little prayer for it to stop raining."
His entreaty was apparently answered as the pitch rapidly drained and became a lot more playable. The Turks seized the opportunity, sub Semih Senturk levelling with his head to usher in an end-to-end finish. But just as a draw seemed inevitable, Arda Turan fired a stoppage-time winner, prompting scenes of joy from the Turks, and numb disbelief in the opposing camp.
For many long minutes, coach Jakob 'Kobi' Kuhn stood motionless on the touchline as if frozen in shock. "We're obviously hugely disappointed," he confessed afterwards. "My team gave everything. We've lost unluckily twice in a row."
Switzerland's demise ultimately came down to poor finishing. Yakin and Co were guilty of glaring misses in the opener against the Czechs, and the problem reared its ugly head again on Wednesday. Yakin, himself, squandered a glorious opportunity to make it 2-0 before half-time. A swift break late in the second half created a three-against-one situation for the home team, but Vonlanthen, Yakin and Cabanas contrived not to force the ball past Turkey keeper Volkan.
"If you don't score goals, you don't win football matches," Ludovoc Magnin lamented. "We had the chance to wrap up the game. The little things make the difference at this level, and you'll be punished for every mistake," continued the visibly-downcast player, who captained Switzerland on the night. "I hate trying to paper over a defeat. We've lost, so we simply weren't good enough."
Magnin turns focus to South Africa
Despite the blow to national pride, the EURO parties and Fan Fests will continue, Kuhn insisted. "The festival will go on, I have no doubt of that. Switzerland is a multicultural place. There are plenty of Germans, French, Italians and Portuguese here. The Swiss won't let it get them down, they deserve to carry on with the party."
The Swiss camp will now attempt to regroup after the double defeat, shaking off the disappointment and focusing on upcoming tasks. Kuhn's men initially face Portugal in Basel on Sunday in their final group fixture. "In the last game, we need to prove we're worthy representatives of our country, and give it our best shot for the fans one last time," declared defender Philippe Senderos. Ricardo Cabanas added: "We're hosts and we want a fitting farewell. We owe it to our supporters."
Ottmar Hitzfeld, the former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich coach who takes over from Kuhn after the tournament, will inherit a young and talented team with a lot of potential. At 25 years and 44 days, the Swiss sent out the youngest starting eleven at the EURO, simultaneously the youngest Switzerland team ever to contest the European Championship. "Our dream has died. Now we have to pursue a new goal, qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. Life goes on, that's sport," reflected Magnin.
The Swiss open their qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ in September, in what appears a manageable group including Greece, Israel, Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg. A berth at the global showpiece in 2010 would help in speedily erasing the memory of a heartbreaking EURO 2008 on home soil.