This was heralded as the night Kylian Mbappé would finally light up Euro 2020 and as he stepped in to shoot France’s fifth penalty on a hitherto flawless penalty shootout, the idea that he might miss seemed frivolous. Then Yann Sommer broke the script, flinging himself to his right and spinning in ecstasy, leaving the wondering boy on his knees; Switzerland had passed, the favorites were out, and while France tried to claim that Sommer had strayed from their line, they still had one foot planted when Mbappé struck.
It capped off a night of drama that will be hard to rival. France thought they had won when Karim Benzema, twice, and Paul Pogba scored beautifully to disallow Haris Seferovic’s first goal. Switzerland had to deal with their own penalty trauma at the time, Ricardo Rodriguez missed from the penalty spot, but drew in staggering circumstances through Seferovic and a last gasp from Mario Gavranovic. Mbappé missed the best chance of extra time and, when offered the chance to recover the situation, he fell short.
An uncomfortable situation for France heralded the difficulties that would follow. His injured list deprived Didier Deschamps of a left-back adjustment to start. They had spent the previous two days preparing a back three and properly configured that way. Within 15 minutes of kickoff, Deschamps was left wondering how to bend his side to get back in shape.
Switzerland had already been willing to start off openly. The readjusted defense did not appear to be at ease when Remo Freuler found space and threw the ball just past Seferovic.
At the rear they had survived a wayward header from Raphaël Varane after an early corner kick, and they lived on their wits when Granit Xhaka blocked Benzema. His right side struggled to contain Mbappé, who seemed to be in the mood, but found a vanguard of their own to his left.
Steven Zuber regained possession after a shot was charged and his chipped cross gave Seferovic all the incentive he needed. But so did the non-challenge offered by Clément Lenglet. Seferovic soared high, flexed his neck muscles and beat Hugo Lloris with a downward header.
France failed to explode in response, finding their opponents more or less immaculate in their one-on-one defense. Emergency left-back Adrien Rabiot shot through the goal, but Sommer threw the ball away from Benzema. Rabiot had an attack from a distance and was only a foot away, but Mbappé, whose status as a free-throw shooter has come under severe scrutiny, struck the wall from a good position.
Had Breel Embolo or Manuel Akanji had a better grip on set pieces, France’s plight could have been exacerbated.
Replacing Lenglet with Kingsley Coman must have been one of the easier halftime decisions of Deschamps’ tenure, but France, with their four defenses recovered, should have been buried within 10 minutes of the restart.
Varane had just avoided a certain change to Xherdan Shaqiri when Switzerland re-entered through Zuber. Benjamin Pavard removed his legs in the area, an offense initially missed by referee Fernando Rapallini. The VAR did not make such a mistake but Rodríguez made it easy for Lloris with a penalty that was not strong; the goalkeeper stopped low to his right and within four minutes Switzerland was sick to the core.
First, Mbappé appeared to have missed a pass through behind him only for Benzema to dominate him with astonishing coordination, somehow kicking him into space and pushing on the advancing Sommer.
Then Antoine Griezmann hit a flawless one-two with Mbappé before launching a cross shot that lunged at Sommer and allowed Benzema to head in from near the line. Pogba, finding Sommer’s top left corner from 25 yards with pace and fall, drew both screams and cheers.
Switzerland had shown no signs of an answer, so what happened next was mind-boggling. First, Seferovic, flying into a Kevin Mbabu cross, converted another magnificent header. Gavranovic completed the comeback as injury time approached, taking Xhaka’s pass and punching into the far corner. Unbelievably, Switzerland could still have lost when Coman hit the crossbar with the final kick.
Overtime took off at a similar speed, which was no small feat, given that the temperature as the clock approached midnight was touching 25 degrees. Admir Mehmedi head-butted Lloris’s arms; at the other end, Pavard moved closer as Sommer acrobatically bowed his lofty effort.
The wonder, as events got halfway through, was that everyone kept going. Mbappé never stopped participating and should have sealed the match for France. He had just crawled after a good job from Coman when Pogba sent him down the left inner channel. With his weakest foot, but only faced by Sommer, Mbappé crashed into the side net.
Upon death, Sommer made a nice stop on camera for Olivier Giroud, who had replaced Benzema, so Switzerland got the shooting it deserved. Things were about to get even better for them.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism