Shearer bliss, sheer agony

Euro 96: England are made to pay penalty as the Swiss capitalise on hosts' nervous start to the tournament
Click to follow
The Independent Online
England 1 Switzerland 1

Shearer 23 Turkyilmaz pen 83

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 76,567

The optimists will point to the fact that England also drew their opening match the last time they hosted, and won, a major tournament; the pessimists will point to a performance that grew more nervous and ragged as the game progressed. A sticky day at Wembley in all senses.

England really should have gone on to win comfortably from the springboard of Alan Shearer's first international goal for 14 matches midway through the first half, but they failed badly to last the match, a state symbolised by the gasping Gazza. Their ability to last the tournament is now in serious question.

There may have been an element of fortune in Switzerland's equaliser, struck home from the penalty spot by Kubilay Turkyilmaz after Stuart Pearce was questionably adjudged to have handled intentionally Marco Grassi's shot. But the persistent and deserving visitors might even have spoiled the whole opening fanfare by taking all three points had the crossbar not earlier come to England's rescue.

"We haven't played well," admitted a worried-looking England coach, Terry Venables. "But I thought it was a very harsh penalty. Our passing wasn't good and we have to get that better." There was, though, a more telling verdict: "We were dead on our feet in the second half." Preparation and selection for Scotland at Wembley next Saturday will clearly need to be re-examined.

It all began so brightly for England, which made the outcome the more frustrating. After the antics and anticipation of the last 10 days, it was a relief as football finally came home to us.

Venables fuelled the optimism by boldly preferring Steve McManaman to David Platt and the initial signs were promising. McManaman danced past two tackles on the left, Darren Anderton drew a smart save from Marco Pascolo and Paul Gascoigne almost put in Teddy Sheringham after an intricate run in the first few minutes.

England were warned, and they were fortunate not to fall behind in the fifth minute when the thorny Turkyilmaz turned Tony Adams to glimpse goal but stumbled and allowed Gary Neville and Gareth Southgate to mop up. The elegant Ciriaco Sforza also missed a good chance, blasting over the bar after Stephane Henchoz had neatly touched on Turkyilmaz's corner.

England gradually found their range, though, Pascolo having to turn over a powerful drive from Gary Neville and a goal duly arrived to settle them and send Wembley into relieved raptures. Paul Gascoigne - here, there and everywhere at this stage, which may have been part of the later problem - slipped a neat ball to Ince, who in turn tucked a pass inside Yvan Quentin to Shearer, who profited from the linesman's judgement that he was level with the last defender.

Gleefully approaching the right-angle of the six-yard area, he drove the ball home off Pascolo's near post. He has never minded not scoring so long as England win, he has always said, but his celebration told of his own relief at scoring 1,043 minutes after his last international goal, against the United States in September 1994.

He might have added a second not long afterwards when his downward header from Pearce's cross was just wide of a post and it soon became clear that England were going to need another goal to see off a Swiss team half a yard sharper than that beaten 3-1 here last November.

Five minutes before half-time, Turkyilmaz rounded Pearce on the right, cut the ball back and Marco Grassi met it firmly, only to see his sliding shot cannon to safety from the crossbar. The favours bestowed on England by the Wembley bar continued. Surely it was to be their day.

Perhaps they relied too much on such a thought in the second half. Two low drives just wide of Pascolo's post by Shearer were but an interruption to Switzerland's increasing confidence. Now the promising 19-year-old Johann Vogel, inventive and full of pace, was tormenting England's midfield and his drive from 20 yards, just half a yard wide, almost brought the equaliser.

Self-doubt had crept in as England clutched at their goal lead, players reluctant now to commit themselves forward. We were reminded of frailty at the back which was not tested fully in friendlies during the accumulation of an impressive defensive record when Adams again let Grassi escape. Pearce came to the rescue as he tried to square for the unmarked Turkyilmaz. Adams has been described as a maypole at this level - English, rigid and easily danced around.

Venables sought to freshen the attack and increase the work-rate further back by introducing Nick Barmby, Steve Stone and, too late, Platt for Gascoigne, but the goal the Swiss promised arrived eight minutes from time.

Southgate's weak header fell to Grassi, who attempted to hook the ball over Pearce. The left-back's reaction was instinctive but his second movement of patting the ball down offended the Spanish referee, Manuel Diaz Vega. David Seaman guessed right but Turkyilmaz found his left corner and the scores were level.

Paul Ince's 20-yard shot drew a fine save from Pascolo, but the Swiss were the closer to winning the game in the dying minutes. Seaman saved at his near post from Grassi's shot to remove hearts from mouths. The Swiss fans were noisily delighted anyway, the English mutely concerned. Ask not for whom the cowbell tolls, it tolls for England.

England (4-4-2): Seaman (Arsenal); G Neville (Manchester Utd), Adams (Arsenal), Southgate (Aston Villa), Pearce (Nottm Forest); Anderton (Tottenham), Ince (Internazionale), Gascoigne (Rangers), McManaman (Liverpool), Sheringham (Tottenham), Shearer (Blackburn). Substitutes: Barmby (Middlesbrough) for Sheringham, 67; Stone (Nottm Forest) for McManaman, 67; Platt (Arsenal) for Gascoigne, 77.

Switzerland (3-5-2): Pascolo (Servette); Geiger (Grasshopper), Vega (Grasshopper), Henchoz (Hamburg); Jeanneret (Neuchatel Xamax), Bonvin (Sion), Sforza (Bayern Munich), Vogel (Grasshopper), Quentin (Sion); Grassi (Monaco), Turkyilmaz (Grasshopper). Substitutes: Chapuisat (Borussia Dortmund) for Bonvin, 66; Koller (Grasshopper) for Geiger, 67.

Referee: M Diaz Vega (Spain).