Poland are through to the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2016 after defeating Switzerland on penalties at the end of an entertaining 1-1 draw in Saint-Etienne.
Grzegorz Krychowiak rifled the winning spot kick high into the corner to spark an outpouring of joy from his team-mates, who slotted all five of their attempts past Yann Sommer. They duly booked their first last-eight tie at a major tournament since 1982, in a cruel denouement for a Switzerland side that had levelled via a Xherdan Shaqiri wonder goal – before Granit Xhaka drove his penalty wide.
It could have been very different had the Swiss taken their chances, but their opponents were no less culpable on that count. Indeed, Poland so nearly raced into the lead inside the very first minute, Johan Djourou’s under-hit back pass leaving Sommer scrambling to clear – only as far as Arkadiusz Milik, who blazed over an empty net.
The Poland forward headed straight at Sommer from a corner just minutes later and also fired too high when picked out at the far post. The pressure, however, was building and Jakub Błaszczykowski gave Adam Nawałka’s men a deserved advantage as half-time neared.
The lively Kamil Grosicki was the initiator, breaking down the left at pace. Although fortunate with a clumsy touch, he found Błaszczykowski with a fine ball to the back post and the unmarked Fiorentina midfielder slotted in for his second goal in two games.
Switzerland were in trouble, their much-heralded midfield struggling to spark, yet they rallied after the interval as Shaqiri stung Łukasz Fabiański’s palms. Fabiański then did brilliantly to get his fingertips to a Ricardo Rodríguez free-kick, before Haris Seferović clattered an effort against the bar.
If that was beginning to look as close as the Swiss would come, Shaqiri had a surprise in store, burying a wonderful scissor-kick in off the post after a Stephan Lichtsteiner cross had been half-cleared. It was Shaqiri and Co who brought the greater menace in extra time as well, and it took another excellent Fabiański save – from substitute Eren Derdiyok’s header – to earn Poland their opportunity to shine from the spot.
Man of the match: Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
Fair to say that Shaqiri had not taken UEFA EURO 2016 by storm going into this round of 16 encounter. Subdued by his own high standards after a fine season with Stoke, the burly playmaker had faced criticism back home, and he had a difficult first half here. He came out in defiant mood after the restart, though, and helped the Swiss shift momentum before his phenomenal strike – after which he tried everything to decide the match before the recourse to spot kicks.
Poland concede at last
One of just two teams along with Germany not to ship a goal in the group stage, Poland have elicited plenty of praise for their defensive rigour. Central pair Kamil Glik and Michał Pazdan were solid again here behind the screening presence of Grzegorz Krychowiak, while stand-in keeper Fabiański did superbly to deny Rodríguez and Derdiyok. There was little any of them could do to stop Shaqiri, but their next opponents will know they are not invincible.
Lewandowski still waiting
Poland coach Nawałka said yesterday he had no issue with Robert Lewandowski’s barren run at these finals, and he will likely repeat the line after his captain helped the Poles break new ground in a UEFA European Championship.
The Bayern forward has now gone seven internationals without finding the net – a remarkable figure for a player who registered a record-equalling 13 times during qualifying and also hit 30 Bundesliga goals last term. Nevertheless, he continues to create space for team-mates in a more wide-ranging role, making Poland far less obvious as an attacking force, and he converted his spot kick with familiar poise and accuracy.
Switzerland’s spot-kick woes
While neither country had much experience of penalty shoot-outs coming into this match, the Swiss will be starting to dread them after once more finishing on the losing side. Their sole previous taste of the spot-kick circus was against Ukraine at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, where they missed all three attempts. They did much better here, of course, with Xhaka alone seeming daunted by the task.