Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran her seventh sub-10.8 100m time this season, smashing Merlene Ottey’s 25-year-old meet record as she brought the curtain down on her season at the Gala del Castelli Meeting in Switzerland on Tuesday.

Roberto Mancini is planning to make changes to Italy's starting line-up for their next match after his "tired" side were held to a goalless draw by Switzerland on Sunday.

The Azzurri created a number of chances and saw a Jorginho penalty saved by Yann Sommer, who made seven saves in total at St. Jakob-Park.

It is the second stalemate in the space of three days for the recently crowned European champions, having also drawn 1-1 with Bulgaria in this week's World Cup qualifiers.

Despite dropping more points, Italy made it 36 games unbeaten to equal Brazil's all-time record, set between 1993 and 1996.

Mancini was once against disappointed with his side's profligacy in front of goal, however, as his side failed to find the net for the first time in 18 matches overall.

"This is a moment when the ball just isn't going in," he told Rai Sport. "Once again, we had too many chances not to win this game.

"It's not the penalty, it's other situations. We need to be more determined, more clinical, more precise. 

"Just like with Bulgaria, it's another match we cannot fail to win with that many scoring opportunities created.

"It was tougher in the second half, but we had the chances in the first half and the second, which means the team did play good football.

"The lads are tired, so there certainly will be some changes for the next game. It's a missed opportunity, exactly like on Thursday. Exactly the same."

 

That next game is against Lithuania in Reggio Emilia on Wednesday, a game Italy will be overwhelming favourites to win no matter what side Mancini fields.

Sunday's draw leaves Italy four points clear of Switzerland, though the Group C second seeds have two games in hand still to play.

With the sides set to face off again on Italian soil in two months' time, Mancini believes that showdown could well be a decider for the only automatic qualification spot.

"I think that will be the case, yes," he said.

Italy's run of draws spans four successive matches inside 90 minutes, though they won two of those matches on penalties on their way to Euro 2020 success.

Ten members of Italy's starting line-up were also part of the XI that helped brush aside Switzerland 3-0 in that tournament, with Emerson Palmieri for Leonardo Spinazzola the only change.

Skipper Giorgio Chiellini believes his side played better in Basel on Sunday than they did in that European Championship match two months ago.

"We played really well this evening in every sense, with technique and aggression, probably better than when we beat Switzerland 3-0 in June," he told RAI Sport.

"What we lacked was the little bit extra to score a goal. This is what we need to find as soon as possible, because this was already a big step forward from Thursday's game, as we were back to the team we saw at Wembley.

"We'll make another step forward for the Nations League in November, then we'll take World Cup qualification after that. 

"Let's take it one step at a time, recover some energy. There's a long way to go and we have to prepare for Wednesday."

Jorginho's penalty miss was his first for Italy from his sixth spot-kick, though that excludes shoot-outs, having also missed in Italy's triumph over England in the Euros final.

"At that moment, it's the team that has to help Jorginho and we did," Chiellini added. "If we didn't have that bit of focus, we could've lost tonight and then made it really complicated for our qualification.

"There are many positives to be taken from this performance and we have to build on those."

Italy were held to a goalless draw by Switzerland at St. Jakob-Park in Sunday's World Cup qualifier as they extended their unbeaten run to 36 games and matched the all-time record.

The Azzurri equalled Spain's European mark with a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria earlier this week and are now level with Brazil's global record, set between 1993 and 1996.

But the point will be considered a disappointment by Roberto Mancini as Jorginho missed a penalty and the wasteful visitors squandered a number of other presentable opportunities.

The draw leaves Italy, who had scored in each of their previous 17 matches, top of Group C and four points better off than a Switzerland side with two games in hand to play.

Domenico Berardi was reinstated in Italy's starting line-up and wasted the best of the first-half chances when failing to beat Yann Sommer after being played clean through.

Lorenzo Insigne was denied from a free-kick by Sommer, who was also equal to a weak shot from Ciro Immobile after Manuel Akanji had glanced just over at the other end.

An annoyed Mancini's mood did not improve eight minutes into the second half as Jorginho's tame penalty, awarded for Ricardo Rodriguez's foul on Berardi, was easily saved by Sommer.

That was the first penalty Jorginho has missed for Italy at the sixth time of taking one, excluding shoot-outs, having missed one in the Euro 2020 final against England.

Mancini instantly turned to substitutes Federico Chiesa and Nicolo Zaniolo but Italy struggled to create many more openings, with Insigne not getting enough power behind his shot to beat Sommer from the best of those.

Roberto Mancini expects to see more focus and ruthlessness from Italy when they face Switzerland after being held to a 1-1 draw by Bulgaria in World Cup qualifying on Thursday. 

In their first match on home soil since winning Euro 2020, Italy went in front through a fine finish from Federico Chiesa but were pegged back before half-time when a swift counter-attack ended with Atanas Iliev turning home. 

Georgi Georgiev did well to deny Chiesa and Ciro Immobile as the Azzurri searched for a winner in the second half, the Bulgaria goalkeeper finishing the game at Stadio Artemio Franchi with seven saves.

Despite failing to secure all three points, Italy made it 35 games unbeaten to equal the European record set by Spain.

Avoiding defeat to Switzerland in Basel on Sunday would see them match the world record for an undefeated run by a men’s international team set by Brazil between 1993 and 1996.

Mancini acknowledged his team may be fatigued by their push to defeat to Bulgaria but is demanding a more clinical display at the weekend. 

"Now the most important thing is to recover our strength for Sunday, because we attacked a lot in the closing stages and became a bit disorganised," said Mancini. 

"But we created so many opportunities. This is football. It happened today and it could happen at other times. When a team attacks, they are bound to suffer something, but the goal we conceded wasn't great. 

"But okay, we will be more focused and mean in Basel. 

"It will be a different game, also because Switzerland are a team that play. That puts you in difficulty but it also lets you play. We will have to play a great match and that's what we'll do. 

"Today, after the first goal we had to kill off the game. We will have to take to the pitch with the attitude of the second half. 

"We need to be more clinical, but the guys did well and what they had to do. We are pleased, but we would have preferred to reach 35 [games unbeaten] with a win."

Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka turned down opportunities for a COVID-19 vaccination before testing positive for the coronavirus, it has been revealed.

Coach Murat Yakin and Swiss Football Federation (SFV) communications chief Adrian Arnold declared Xhaka, who was forced out of the World Cup qualifier against Greece on Wednesday, exercised his right not to receive the vaccine.

Xhaka has faced stiff criticism in the Swiss media for snubbing the opportunity to bolster his body's defences as the pandemic continues to surge.

Yakin said: "We can simply give recommendations to the players. It is his decision not to be vaccinated and we must respect it. He's the captain, but he's also a man. It is his own rights."

According to Arnold, Xhaka was the only member of the Switzerland squad not to have had the jab or have already recovered from the virus.

The Arsenal player's case comes in the week that the SFV has written to its 1,400 clubs and 300,000 members urging them to be vaccinated. It also follows Xhaka's red card for a dangerous tackle on Gunners duty in a 5-0 defeat against Manchester City on Saturday.

Arnold said, quoted by several Swiss media: "Granit Xhaka was not vaccinated. He's a player who isn't vaccinated. We left this up to each player, it's a personal decision of each player – just like any other person in Switzerland.

"All the other players in the team have been vaccinated or have recovered – so they are more or less safe, at least from a medical point of view. One is never quite sure.

"Now, unfortunately, Granit caught it. From a sporting point of view, it is a shame for us at this important moment."

Arnold said the Switzerland team were doing all they could to reduce contact within their ranks, with social distancing encouraged where possible and masks worn in meetings.

"I think it would have been irresponsible on our part not to know who in the team is not vaccinated," Arnold said.

"We had intensive discussions with the players already during the Euros. We have done everything to facilitate access to the vaccine, but each person is free to decide whether or not they want to be vaccinated."

It appears unlikely Xhaka will be able to play in Switzerland's next game, which comes against Euro 2020 winners Italy in Basle on Sunday.

However, Arnold, quoted in Blick, said: "We still have hope. On Thursday he will do another PCR test. It is the case that [on Monday] he had a negative PCR test, on Wednesday morning a negative rapid test, now unfortunately a positive one. So we still have the hope that the test on Thursday will be negative."

Arsenal sit bottom of the Premier League table heading into the clash with Norwich City following the international break, though regardless of Xhaka's health by then, the midfielder is facing a three-match suspension so will not be involved.

Arsenal's Granit Xhaka has tested positive for coronavirus while on international duty with Switzerland.

The Swiss team confirmed on Wednesday that the midfielder – who was sent off in Arsenal's 5-0 hammering at the hands of Manchester City last weekend – was in isolation after returning a positive PCR test result.

Xhaka, who is Switzerland's captain, showed symptoms early on Wednesday, ahead of his country's friendly against Greece,

An initial test came back negative, but a subsequent PCR test confirmed a positive result. Xhaka will have another test on Thursday.

It was confirmed he had no contact with his team-mates throughout Wednesday and the team doctor deemed no further measures had to be taken as all the other players were either all vaccinated or had previously had COVID-19 and recovered, though a member of staff had to go into quarantine.

Xhaka impressed for Switzerland at Euro 2020 but has failed to bring that form into the Premier League season, with Arsenal losing all three of their games so far.

Mikel Arteta's side sit bottom of the table heading into the clash with Norwich City following the international break, though regardless of Xhaka's mandatory quarantine period, the midfielder is facing a three-match suspension so will not be involved.

Jamaican-born Swiss sprinter, Alex Wilson, will not be allowed to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

This comes after a provisional suspension handed to Wilson by Anti-Doping Switzerland was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Wilson, a bronze medalist in the 200 metres at the 2018 European Championships, was handed the mandatory provisional suspension after an out-of-competition sample collected from him on March 15th revealed the presence of a metabolite, trenbolone, an anabolic steroid.

The Swiss sprinter blamed the presence of the prohibited substance on the consumption of contaminated beef he ate at a Jamaican Restaurant in the USA.  Wilson then challenged the ruling at the Swiss Olympic Disciplinary Chamber and was successful, as they arrived at a ruling to lift his suspension on July 2nd.

The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), acting on behalf of World Athletics, along with WADA then successfully filed an application against the Disciplinary Chamber’s decision requesting that the provisional suspension be reinstated.

Head of the AIU, Brett Clothier, had this to say about the situation.

“We were not satisfied with the national-level decision to lift the mandatory provisional suspension and so together with WADA we appealed the decision. This case reflects the AIU’s commitment to protecting the interests of clean athletes and ensuring a level-playing field in Tokyo.”

 Wilson turned heads in the track and field world at the Georgia Games on July 18th with massive lifetime bests of 9.84 in the 100 metres and 19.84 in the 200 metres.

 

 

 

 

Xherdan Shaqiri has revealed he is ready to leave Liverpool and hinted he would enjoy playing under Maurizio Sarri at Lazio, praising the Italian coach's attacking style of play.

The Switzerland international joined the Reds in 2018 but has remained on the fringes of the first team throughout his time at Anfield.

And after enjoying Euro 2020 success, in which he became Switzerland's outright top scorer at major tournaments, Shaqiri has suggested his time under Jurgen Klopp may be coming to an end.

"Fortunately, football has helped me achieve many of my dreams," Shaqiri told Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport. "I was lucky enough to play with great teams and to win many titles.

"Who knows, maybe I could get something even with the Swiss national team. My contract [with] Liverpool expires in 2022, in 2018 I signed a four-year deal.

"The important thing at this moment in my career is to be able to play regularly, but that hasn’t always been the case in the last three seasons.

"This is why I told Liverpool that I feel ready for a new challenge. They accepted my wish and will seriously consider the offers that will come. They will not stop me."

Opportunities have been limited for Shaqiri at Liverpool as he has made just 45 top-flight appearances across a three-year spell, during which he has scored seven goals for the 2019-20 Premier League champions.

But the 29-year-old, whose 10 chances created at Euro 2020 were three more than Ricardo Rodriguez for the Swiss, proved his quality as he was one of Vladimir Petkovic's standout performers at the tournament.

While Shaqiri explained there had been no direct contact from clubs yet, he made clear his desire to keep playing regularly and praised the development of Italian football.

"I'm only 29 years old, I have played in some of the best leagues in Europe, and I would like to continue being a part of them," Shaqiri said. "I’m not yet thinking about the end of my career, it’s a future I imagine far away. We will see what destiny has in store for me.

"I think it’s not just my opinion that football in Italy has developed substantially in recent years. The win at the European Championship is there to prove it, a well-deserved result.

"Just take a look at how many Premier League players have moved to Serie A."

The former Bayern Munich winger, who has been directly involved in 51 goals in 96 appearances for his country, has limited experience in Serie A, too, given he spent six months with reigning champions Inter in 2015.

Asked whether a move to Italy and, more specifically, Lazio was an option, Shaqiri spoke glowingly of Sarri's qualities and complimented sporting director Igli Tare.

"Igli Tare has been doing an excellent job at Lazio for years," Shaqiri commented. "If it's true that he has great respect for me, then I’m honoured.

"I have been following Lazio for a long time, they are a top team. In general, due to my characteristics, I like to play more attacking football and Sarri practices it. It would be intriguing."

Italy ended their 53-year wait for a second European Championship crown with victory over England in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

Leonardo Bonucci cancelled out an early Luke Shaw goal to take the game to extra time and then penalties, which the Azzurri edged 3-2 to inflict heartbreak on hosts England.

Italy's triumph was deserved on the basis of the qualifying campaign and the tournament itself; Roberto Mancini's side have now gone 34 games unbeaten in all competitions.

England can also be proud of their run, and it is perhaps no surprise that the two finalists dominate Stats Perform's best XI of the tournament.

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo is also included in our Opta data-driven side, along with players from Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

 

Goalkeeper: Yann Sommer (Switzerland)

Gianluigi Donnarumma may have been named UEFA's Player of the Tournament for his penalty shoot-out heroics against Spain and Italy, but Sommer gets the nod after enjoying an incredible tournament.

The Swiss goalkeeper saved a Kylian Mbappe penalty in his side's shoot-out win against France in the last 16 and made a tournament-high 21 saves in total, 10 of those coming in the eventual defeat to Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals.

 

Right-back: Denzel Dumfries (Netherlands)

Dumfries' reputation was certainly enhanced during Euro 2020, even if the Netherlands were sent packing by the Czech Republic at the last-16 stage.

He became just the second ever Netherlands player, after Ruud van Nistelrooy, to score in his first two European Championship appearances, while also helping his side to a couple of clean sheets in his four outings.

Centre-back: Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)

Juventus defender Bonucci was a rock at the heart of Italy's defence, particularly in the quarter-finals when frustrating Belgium's plethora of attackers.

No defender made more interceptions than the 34-year-old (12, level with Ukraine's Mykola Matvienko), and it was his bundled finish that drew his country level against England in the final.

Centre-back: John Stones (England)

England conceded just two goals all tournament, with only one of those coming in open play. A large part of that was down to ever-present defender Stones, who carried his club form with Manchester City onto the international stage.

Stones won 20 aerial challenges – the joint-second most of any defender in the competition, one behind Harry Maguire – and his 447 successful passes placed him behind only Jordi Alba (458) and club-mate Aymeric Laporte (644).

Left-back: Luke Shaw (England)

Shaw was left out for England's opening game against Croatia, but the full-back soon made himself a consistent presence. He was even compared to the great Roberto Carlos after starring with two assists against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.

The Manchester United defender provided three assists in total and netted the fastest-ever goal in a European Championship final with his volley against Italy. Those four goal involvements were bettered only by Patrik Schick (five) and Ronaldo (six).

 

Central midfield: Marco Verratti (Italy)

The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder was a major fitness doubt for the tournament and sat out Italy's first two matches, but boy did he make an impact in the following five games.

Since his first game against Wales on June 20, all-rounder Verratti ranked first among all midfielders at Euro 2020 for chances created (14), passes completed (388), progressive carries (59), tackles (18) and recoveries of possession (37).

Central midfield: Pedri (Spain)

A number of young players enjoyed a breakthrough tournament at this edition of the Euros, arguably none more so than Barcelona superstar in the making Pedri, who made more passes in the opposing half (348) than any other player at the Euros.

He became the second European player to start as many as five games at the age of 18 or below in major tournament history, after Northern Ireland's Norman Whiteside. Proving age is just a number, Pedri completed all 55 of his passes in regular time in the semi-final loss to Italy.

Right wing: Federico Chiesa (Italy)

Versatile wide player Chiesa was always going to be one to watch at the Euros, having stepped up on the big occasions for Juventus last season with goals in key matches, including their Coppa Italia triumph against Atalanta.

He scored Italy's extra-time opener in their last-16 win against Austria and put his side ahead against Spain in the semi-finals. He was not afraid to shoot – only three others did so on more occasions – and was arguably Italy's most dangerous player in the final.

Attacking midfield: Patrik Schick (Czech Republic)

Schick not only scored the joint-most goals, his five strikes putting him level with Ronaldo, but he was responsible for surely the most memorable one of the lot - a 49.7-yard lob against Scotland, the furthest ever distance a goal has been scored at a European Championships.

The Bayer Leverkusen forward found the net in all but one of his side's games, with three of his goals coming from open play, compared to just two for Golden Boot winner Ronaldo.

 

Left wing: Raheem Sterling (England)

England's run to the final would not have been possible if not for the fine form of Sterling, the Manchester City winger responsible for his side's first three goals in the competition.

That includes winning strikes against Croatia and the Czech Republic in the group stage, followed by the opener against Germany in the last 16, before assisting Kane's early goal against Ukraine. Even when not scoring he was a real threat, leading the way with 20 dribbles completed – four more than next player on the list in Frenkie de Jong.

Centre-forward: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Even though it was far from a vintage tournament for Ronaldo and dethroned champions Portugal, the Juventus superstar still claimed the Golden Boot accolade thanks to having one assist more than fellow five-goal forward Schick.

Ronaldo's 72 minutes per goal was the best return of any player to have played at least three times in the tournament. His haul also moved him level with Iran great Ali Daei as the all-time leading goalscorer in men's international football with 109, a record that he will get a chance to break later this year.

 

After two engrossing games on Friday, we have our first Euro 2020 semi-finalists.

Spain ended a nine-year wait for a place in the final four of a major tournament, but they had to do it the hard way once again, with penalties needed to defeat Switzerland after a draw in Saint Petersburg.

Then came arguably the finest match of the tournament to date, Italy prevailing against Belgium to set a new record for consecutive wins in this competition and continue their remarkable form under Roberto Mancini.

Here are some of the key data takeaways from day one of the quarter-finals...

 

Switzerland 1-1 Spain (aet, 1-3 pens): Luis Enrique's men are the Euros shoot-out kings

Switzerland's previous three European Championship knockout games had gone to penalties (against Poland in 2016 and France this year), so perhaps we should have expected another shoot-out here.

Things certainly looked to be under Spain's control when Denis Zakaria, in for the suspended Granit Xhaka, scored the 10th own goal of Euro 2020 – that's more than were seen in the previous 15 championships combined (nine). Three of those have now gone in Spain's favour: they got two against Slovakia in the group stage.

Xherdan Shaqiri steered in Remo Freuler's pass to become his country's leading Euros goalscorer with four – he has as many goals (three) in his most recent three games as he did in his previous 31 – as Switzerland responded well in the second half. Then came a crucial moment: a heavy challenge from Freuler, and a red card flashed his way. It made the Atalanta midfielder the sixth person to be sent off at these finals and Switzerland only the third side in the competition's history to score an own goal and have a player dismissed in the same game, after Poland (against Slovakia this year) and Czechoslovakia against the Netherlands in 1976.

Still, Switzerland stood firm. Yann Sommer produced 10 saves, the most by a goalkeeper in a knockout match who did not suffer defeat during normal or extra time since Ivo Viktor for Czechoslovakia, again in 1976. Spain fired in 28 shots in total, with substitutes Dani Olmo and Gerard Moreno attempting six each. They have struck the most shots of anyone at these finals without scoring (Olmo 16, Gerard 15).

Yet Sommer's heroics were not enough in the shoot-out, Ruben Vargas' miss allowing Mikel Oyarzabal to ensure Spain progressed from penalties in a Euros match for the fourth time, more than any other nation. One of those came against Italy in 2008, and another against Portugal in 2012 – each time, La Roja went on to lift the trophy...


 

Belgium 1-2 Italy: Azzurri clinch Euros record against favourite foes

Italy stretched their record unbeaten run to 32 matches and 13 consecutive victories to see off Belgium and reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the 12th time, a tally only bettered among European sides by Germany (20).

Perhaps more impressively, Italy have now won each of their past 15 games at the Euros (including qualifying), which is a competition record. Had Belgium claimed victory, they would have reached that tally themselves.

Roberto Martinez's side might be the top-ranked in the world, but they have now faced the Azzurri five times at the Euros and World Cup without winning, more than they have against any other side. They may have feared this result was coming.

Nicolo Barella opened the scoring with his sixth goal in 27 international games – only one fewer than he has managed in his past 116 club matches – before Lorenzo Insigne swept home a quite stunning second. Romelu Lukaku got a goal back after the impressive Jeremy Doku had become the first teenager to win a Euros spot-kick since Wayne Rooney in 2004.

Lukaku had a couple of chances for another in the second half, but he could not quite muster what would have been a 23rd goal in his most recent 19 competitive internationals, as Roberto Mancini celebrated becoming just the second coach in Euros history to win each of his first five games in the finals after Michel Hidalgo in 1984.

Italy's resolute defending in the second half was built on the partnership of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, whose guile helped the Azzurri over the line. This was something of a showcase for experienced stoppers: the five starting centre-backs – Chiellini (36), Bonucci (34), Thomas Vermaelen (35), Jan Vertonghen (34) and Toby Alderweireld (32) – averaged an age of 34 years and 234 days.

 

Luis Enrique said it was a good thing Gerard Moreno missed a string of chances in Spain's victory against Switzerland rather than Alvaro Morata following the recent criticism aimed at the Juventus striker.

Three-time European champions Spain booked their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 on Friday with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over 10-man Switzerland.

La Roja, who needed extra time to overcome Croatia in the last 16, were pegged back by a Xherdan Shaqiri strike in St Petersburg after Denis Zakaria's own goal had put them in front.

Even after Remo Freuler's dismissal with 77 minutes played, Luis Enrique's men could not find a way through due to a mixture of profligacy and a number of Yann Sommer saves – a tournament-high 10 in total.

Gerard replaced Morata and endured a tough time of it, the Villarreal striker missing a number of good opportunities to win the tie for Spain before penalties were required.

He managed six shots, half of those on target, while his expected goals (xG) return of 3.3 for the tournament so far is the highest of any player yet to score at Euro 2020.

Morata revealed last week he and his family had been subjected to abuse by Spain fans, and Luis Enrique is glad the striker was not the recipient of any more criticism on Friday.

"Luckily it was Gerard Moreno who failed to take the chances. If Morata misses them, you impale him," the Spain head coach said after the quarter-final win.

"It's quite evident what Morata has experienced and what Gerard has experienced. They are both my players and I love them very much."

 

Spain are the sixth team to progress from two separate knockout games of a single European Championship tournament that went to extra time or beyond, all five previous sides going on to lift the trophy.

They were on the back foot when Sergio Busquets missed the first spot-kick, but Fabian Schar, Manuel Akanji and Ruben Vargas all failed to find the net for Switzerland.

Asked if he felt nervous watching the shoot-out, Luis Enrique said: "It was a tranquil moment for me because we'd already worked on everything. Nothing else could be done.

"Win or lose on penalties, the team would have done excellently for my judgement. For how they've handled this, how they've played, how they've represented Spain.

"We are so proud. It'd be ridiculous to think that we, or any of the semi-finalists, would settle for just getting that far now – all of us want to get to the final and win.

"I've said from the outset that we are one of the seven or eight teams which, no exaggeration, could win this trophy – now we're one of four."

Switzerland knocked out competition favourites France on penalties in the last round following an incredible 3-3 draw, but they ultimately could not do likewise against Spain.

It is the fourth time the Swiss have been eliminated from a major tournament at the last-eight stage, with each of those previous occasions coming in the World Cup.

"I have mixed feelings," said head coach Vladimir Petkovic after the game. "I have pride – we can all be so proud. We leave here with our heads held high. 

"On the other hand, we were so close to the semi-final, and that doesn't happen often. I have more positive than negative feelings.

"Congratulations to Spain. They tried everything and in the end won on penalties. I am very proud of my team, and all the players.

"My players were the heroes of the night. We would have deserved to go to the semi-final."

After nine years, Spain are back in the semi-finals of a major tournament – and, boy, has it felt like hard work.

A group-stage slog, an extra-time thriller with Croatia and then this, a match against Switzerland that seemed under their control but still required 120 minutes of football and a penalty shoot-out to decide.

Yet here they are: exhausted, written off, but in with a shot of a third European Championship final out of the past four. The passing might not be as slick, the control not as imperious as it once was, but one thing Euro 2020 has given these players is belief. After this latest challenge posed by the Russian summer and the Swiss Sommer, it will only be stronger.

It seemed Spain had found the ideal antidote to any lingering fatigue from the last 16 once Jordi Alba's volley took a hearty deflection off the studs off Denis Zakaria and flew into the net, a stroke of misfortune for Granit Xhaka's replacement in midfield that meant Euro 2020 has seen more own goals (10) as the 15 previous editions combined (nine).

It also left Switzerland with a daunting task. Trailing 1-0 after eight minutes is not a great outlook against any team, but especially one that came into the quarter-finals with the highest average possession (73.4 per cent) and the joint-lowest number of shots faced (24). Getting the ball back is hard enough; getting a shot away is damnably difficult.

 

Yet Switzerland did. They ended the 90 minutes having managed eight attempts on Unai Simon's goal, as many as Croatia managed in that chaotic 5-3 defeat in the previous round. Two of those were on target, the same number as Spain managed; one ended up in the net, via the composed right foot of Xherdan Shaqiri. The Liverpool man has 51 direct goal involvements in 96 Switzerland matches, the team's hopes in major finals still carried on those spectacular shoulders.

If Vladimir Petkovic's side did not really deserve to be trailing on the scoresheet, they certainly didn't merit being a man down on the pitch. After 77 minutes, they were, Remo Freuler issued a straight red by Michael Oliver for a strong challenge on Gerard Moreno – strong, but not obviously reckless, or out of control, and one in which he cleanly won the ball. But red was the colour it remained, meaning the Atalanta midfielder became the first player at the Euros to assist a goal and be sent off in the same game since Nuno Gomes for Portugal 21 years ago.

It also meant, in extra time, Spain suddenly cut loose. They attempted 11 shots in the first period, one more than they managed in the whole of the first 90 minutes. Gerard Moreno smashed wide from five yards; Yann Sommer flew around the Switzerland goal as though his life depended on it. When it looked as though Gerard might finally best him, Ricardo Rodriguez hurled himself in the way, the block inspiring louder cheers from the Saint Petersburg crowd than perhaps any other moment.

It looked as though Sommer's save from Rodrigo in the shoot-out might have swung things Switzerland's way after Sergio Busquets had hit the post, but two Simon stops and Ruben Vargas' effort that flew into the stand gave Mikel Oyarzabal the chance to send Spain through. This time, the finish was clinical.

So Luis Enrique's men marched, or rather hobbled, into the semi-finals of the Euros for the first time since winning in 2012. Unfancied before the finals, uninspiring at the start of them, they are still here, still passing and, more than ever, still believing. Tougher footballing tests await but, physically and mentally, they have already gone through the wringer. You won't scare them now.

Spain will contest their first major tournament semi-final since 2012 despite failing to beat 10-man Switzerland after extra-time, with La Roja finally getting the job done on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Luis Enrique's men were dominant throughout and even had a man advantage throughout extra-time, and although their finishing left a lot to be desired, they proved more clinical from 12 yards than the Swiss.

It was a Switzerland player who provided the decisive touch to put Spain one up as Denis Zakaria scored an early own goal, but they capitalised on a defensive error to level through Xherdan Shaqiri in the second period.

Spain could not take advantage of Remo Freuler's contentious sending off, with Yann Sommer starring between the posts for Switzerland, but even he could not make up for his team's profligacy from the spot as Mikel Oyarzabal converted the winning kick.

Switzerland's remarkable run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 has captivated fans at the grounds and at home.

Still, there is only one member of Vladimir Petkovic's squad who consistently has his own song belted out in stands and living rooms.

Striker Breel Embolo epitomises the 'golden generation' of Swiss players to have emerged in the last decade: talented, spirited, and with a story to tell. He is captivating as a player and person, so much so that his name is sung with gusto at every international match to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. "Oh Embolo, oh Embolo..."

There's no denying his popularity, but where Embolo has so far fallen short is in matching early expectations. He made his Basel debut in March 2014 and scored minutes after coming on as a substitute in his first Swiss Super League match. Links with clubs including Manchester United began to emerge as he earned a spot as the youngest Swiss player at Euro 2016 – a squad packed with talent, despite being sourced from a country roughly half the size of French Guiana with a population of around a million fewer people than Hungary.

A big move to the Bundesliga with Schalke followed, but serious injuries held him back in Gelsenkirchen as he missed the best part of 21 months of action. Matters improved after a switch to Borussia Monchengladbach in 2019, although his progress has been disrupted by some off-field indiscretions including a six-figure fine and one-game ban after he was accused by police of fleeing over rooftops after a raid on an illegal party in January this year (Embolo denied he attended the party).

His ability, though, has never been in question, even as other Switzerland players have attained greater continental acclaim. As Urs Fischer, Basel head coach in 2015, said: "I've coached Josip Drmic and Admir Mehmedi, and with Ricardo Rodriguez you could already see in the Under-15s that he was going to have a huge career.

"Ricci also had this carefreeness and calmness, only with Breel it seems to me that it's all a step higher. And he did it in a way where I have to say: very strong!"

'Strong' is certainly the word to describe his performances at Euro 2020.

 

Embolo scored his first tournament goal for Switzerland in their opening draw with Wales, a game Robert Page's men would likely admit was one they should have lost. Embolo should really have been the match-winner: he attempted at least twice as many shots (six) as anyone else in the contest, goalkeeper Danny Ward denied him another two goals, and a VAR review intervened after he set up what looked to have been the decisive third goal.

Switzerland have since scored six more goals, three against Turkey and three in that amazing last-16 tie with France, and Embolo has neither scored nor assisted any of them. And yet, his attacking influence cannot be dismissed. After all, this is a player who scored five times in 31 Bundesliga games last season, who has averaged a goal every 243 minutes in 107 games for Schalke and Gladbach in Germany's top flight, but was summed up as follows by former Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel: "He's a player who runs enough up front for three. That means we don't expect a goal a game from him."

Prior to the quarter-finals, only two players – Kylian Mbappe (25) and Joakim Maehle (23) – had attempted more dribbles than Embolo (21) at Euro 2020. Seven of those take-ons were in the opposition box, the most of anyone at the tournament. He has had 30 touches of the ball in the opponents' box in four games, a figure bettered only by Alvaro Morata (32) and Mbappe (35). That sort of dynamism on the ball has proved key for a side who have averaged 52 per cent of the ball in their matches, the 11th-highest figure of all 24 teams.

 

What we have also seen is a supreme contribution off the ball, one that perhaps is at odds with a player sometimes seen showing more spirited antics off the pitch than on it. His combined total of 41 duels won and recoveries at Euro 2020 was the highest tally among forward players over the first four rounds of fixtures. It is precisely that mixture of hard work and direct running that could be critical to their chances against Spain, who are expected to dominate possession and persist with a high defensive line.

This tournament has looked like being a watershed moment for Embolo: a showcase not just of his ability, but his commitment to the cause and, at just 24, his leadership. Keep that going against Spain, and it will really be worth singing about.

Luis Enrique pledged there will be no complacency from his Spain side as La Roja prepare to take on Switzerland in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.

While Spain needed extra-time to see off a resurgent Croatia 5-3 in the last 16, Switzerland stunned world champions France 5-4 on penalties after a dramatic 3-3 draw in Bucharest.

Both of those ties took place on Monday, albeit Switzerland's game edged into Tuesday local time, and the teams now face a quick turnaround for Friday's contest in Saint Petersburg.

This is the first meeting between Switzerland and Spain at the European Championship.

Their three previous meetings in a major tournament came in the 1966, 1994 and 2010 World Cups, with La Roja winning the first two and Switzerland triumphing last time out – albeit Spain went on to win the trophy despite that group-stage defeat.

However, that defeat in South Africa is Spain's only loss to Switzerland in 22 meetings in all competitions.

The teams met in October and November last year, in the Nations League group stage, with Spain winning 1-0 at home before drawing 1-1 on the road, and Luis Enrique is under no illusions as to the scale of test his team will have to pass if they are to face either Belgium or Italy in the last four.

"The reality is Switzerland have got through and nothing else matters," Spain's head coach told a news conference.

"The good thing for us is that both teams know each other very well. We competed recently in the Nations League.

"They're going to be a very tough team to face and I think for the spectator there might not be some big names, but they're a great group of players.

"They're a match for us in terms of the way they press, the way they attack, so it's going to be very difficult for us."

Spain are the first team in European Championship history to score five or more goals in consecutive games, having defeated Slovakia 5-0 in their final group match before edging Croatia in a thriller.

They had not scored more than four goals in any of their first 42 matches in the competition, though Switzerland have netted three times in each of their last two games, having never scored more than twice in any of their first 15 matches at the Euros.

"We need to be hungry again, greedy, to make it to the next round," Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic, who will be shorn of the suspended Granit Xhaka, told reporters.

"From this point on I can't say I'm satisfied and happy that we made it so far because, for me, the next step is always the most important.

"We want to succeed, make it to the next round. We know that we have to play against one of the strongest teams, Spain, one of the favourites, but we will try to take our chance and make it to the next round."

Page 1 of 3
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.