Opinion: Kobi & Co. Can Depart With Heads Held High | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 12.06.2008
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Opinion: Kobi & Co. Can Depart With Heads Held High

Euro 2008 co-hosts Switzerland may have already been eliminated, but the Swiss can hold their heads up high knowing they gave their all and that bad luck and the fickle will of the soccer gods conspired against them.

Switzerland's team captain Alexander Frei, right, is led off the field after being injured during the group A match between Switzerland and Czech Republic

Alexander Frei's injury was the pebble that caused an avalanche of bad luck for the Swiss

Is anyone else, apart from around 7.5 million Swiss, saddened by the elimination of co-hosts Switzerland?

Although common sense told us that they were never likely to do a "Greece" this year, it was hoped that the home nation's unlikely qualification from Group A would help the feel-good factor running through the tiny nation to continue and, by proxy, spread to all of us who are following the tournament.

To scrape through the group would have kept the local fantasists dreaming for at least another week and given the rest of us who have developed a soft spot for the Swiss another fleetingly brief warm glow. But this was not to be. Even if their survival at Euro 2008 hinged on the last game and Portugal were suddenly struck by a bout of gastroenteritis which knocked out all their talented stars, things would still conspire to eliminate the Swiss. Their campaign has had that pre-destined feeling of "never going to happen" from the very beginning.

Missed chances and injury

Take the first game against the Czechs. Here was a side which had lit up Euro 2004 and had a reputation for fast, attacking soccer. The Swiss were expected to batten down the hatches and hope for the best. And yet, the hosts matched the speedy Czechs in all departments of the game and were desperately unlucky to lose 1-0.

Switzerland's team captain Alexander Frei is treated after being injured

Frei's injury sucked the air out of the stadium in Basel

While they never looked like they would actually win, they had a glorious chance to equalize when Johan Vonlanthen's volley hit the bar.

Throw in the not inconsiderable blow of losing captain and start striker Alexander Frei to a tournament-ending knee injury in the dying minutes of the first half, and it was starting to look like the soccer gods were in a particularly facetious mood.

Ill-timed storm ruins Swiss game plan

The second game against Turkey probably provided the Swiss with their only plausible chance of three points in the group. After beating them in the World Cup play-offs in 2005, and coming out on top of the subsequent tunnel fisticuffs which led to the incident being christened the "Istan-brawl," the Swiss rightly had reasons to be optimistic.

Portugal had exposed Turkey's naivety and frailties in their opening game, showing that slick and intelligent movement would finally triumph over rough and tumble. The Swiss themselves had shown at times against the Czech Republic that they could string some neat passes together and mount dangerous attacks. They also showed a resolve to meet like with like in the physical battles with the Czech hard men. Everything was set up for Switzerland to get themselves back on track.

A young Swiss fan reacts at the end of the group A match between Switzerland and Turkey in Basel

The dream came to an end but Swiss fans should be proud

But then the soccer gods decided it would be quite humorous to unleash a deluge of rain on Basel just as Switzerland were settling into their game plan. The tactic to play Turkey off the pitch turned to mush as the playing field turned into a quagmire.

Perversely, the downpour actually played into Switzerland's hands before it finally sapped them of energy. Had it not been for the puddle in the Turkish goalmouth, Hakan Yakin's opening tap-in may not have even reached him; the ball slopping invitingly to a stop at the Swiss striker's feet with the empty goal gaping.

Maybe, just maybe, things were going to go in Switzerland's favor. But as we now know, the dice were loaded from the start. Turkey fought on, and their eventual victory came from the physical strength and battling nature which at times work against them.

Huge effort not enough

Turkey's Arda Turan, right, scores the winning goal past Switzerland's Valon Behrami

Turan and his team showed more resolve than the Swiss

When Turkey equalized, the Swiss physically deflated. The effort to maintain their lead in such treacherous conditions had been too much and the advantage visually swung to the Turks. Finally, when Kobi Kuhn's team was almost spent, Turkey's Arda Turan put them out of their misery.

Except the misery continues because now Switzerland can't even blend into the background. They have one more match to go, one in which the odds are so firmly stacked against them that bookmakers are even refusing to take bets. And even once their tournament is over, they will have to watch as other teams travel around their picturesque country in pursuit of the glory they so desperately wanted for themselves.

A sad, but proud departure

Switzerland's Hakan Yakin, center, scores the opening goal against Turkey

Hakan Yakin splashes the ball into the net for the lead

While they were never realistic title challengers, the Swiss don't really deserve to go out like this, a team which has given everything and come away (so far) with nothing. But as they wave goodbye to their loyal fans in Basel on Sunday night, they will at least be able to hold their heads high. They have not only been narrowly beaten in both games, but have had to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous soccer fortune.

Nick Amies is a reporter at DW-WORLD.DE

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