Switzerland 0 Czech Republic 1: Frei injury deals hosts' hopes a hammer blow

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The Independent Online

"That's football," Switzerland's phlegmatic coach Köbi Kuhn said several times in the aftermath of his team's unlucky defeat in the opening match of Euro 2008. He might have added: it waits until you are down, then kicks you in the guts. Or in the knee, in the case of his captain, Alex Frei, whose ligament injury just before half-time will cause him to miss the rest of the tournament.

Frei was not the only Swiss shedding tears as he hobbled away, almost certainly taking the co-hosts' chances of progressing with him. The accomplished Borussia Dortmund player is one of only three natural strikers in the squad, the others being Marco Streller, who wants to retire after being booed recently, and his FC Basle team-mate Eren Derdiyok, the only teenager in the tournament. Kuhn initially tried to bring Derdiyok on as Frei's replacement, then changed his mind and went for the more experienced Hakan Yakin, who proceeded to miss Switzerland's best chance by heading wide a perfect cross.

In contrast, the Czech Republic's Karel Brückner, another of the numerous 60-something coaches here, was rewarded for backing the younger element in bringing on Vaclav Sverkos rather than Portsmouth's Milan Baros for an ineffective Jan Koller just before the hour. Sverkos soon marked his third international appearance with "the best moment of my footballing life" by latching on to Tomas Galasek's long looping header to score against a square defence.

Brückner's thinking was shrewd: "In the second half, fast players are very important. We weren't as successful as we wanted in managing to send high balls to Koller and so we substituted him with a different player, who is very fast. It was a successful move."

That they had all the luck going on the opening night was emphasised in the final 15 minutes. In a single attack, the otherwise excellent captain, Tomas Ujfalusi, handled Streller's header without being penalised, Chelsea's Petr Cech made one of several good saves from Tranquillo Barnetta and Johan Vonlanthen drove one rebound against the bar.

Goal: Sverkos (71) 0-1.

Switzerland (4-4-2): Benaglio (Wolfsburg); Lichtsteiner (Lille), Müller (Lyons), Senderos (Arsenal), Magnin (Stuttgart); Behrami (Lazio), Inler (Udinese), Fernandes (Manchester City), Barnetta (Leverkusen); Frei (Dortmund), Streller (Basle). Substitutes used: Hakan Yakin (Young Boys) for Frei, 44; Vonlanthen (Salzburg) for Lichtsteiner, 75; Derdiyok (Basle) for Behrami, 83.

Czech Republic (4-2-3-1): Cech (Chelsea); Grygera (Juventus), Ujfalusi (Fiorentina), Rozehnal (Lazio), Jankulovski (Milan); Galasek (Nuremberg), Polak (Anderlecht); Sionko (Copenhagen), Jarolim (Hamburg), Plasil (Osasuna); Koller (Nuremberg). Substitutes used: Sverkos (Banik Ostrava) for Koller, 56; Vicek (Anderlecht) for Sionko, 83; Kovac (Spartak Moscow) for Jarolim, 87.

Referee: R Rosetti (Italy).

Booked: Switzerland: Magnin, Vonlanthen, Barnetta.

Man of the match: Cech.

Attendance: 41,000.

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