Sverkos sinks Swiss
Second-half substitute's strike stuns co-hosts
By Peter Fraser. Last Updated: June 7, 2008 9:23pm
Sverkos celebrates the first goal of Euro 2008
Czech Republic opened Euro 2008 with three points as they defeated co-hosts Switzerland 1-0 at St Jakob-Park.
Second-half substitute Vaclav Sverkos scored the only goal of the game on 70 minutes to settle an underwhelming curtain-raiser in Basel.
The first half was a tight affair, but it was Switzerland who created the best opportunity midway through the opening period as record scorer and captain Alexander Frei was denied by Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech from close range.
However, that was to be Frei's last contribution as the striker limped off in tears on the stroke of half-time with a serious knee injury which could well have ended the Borussia Dortmund star's tournament.
The Czechs lacked a cutting edge in the first 45 minutes and that bluntness continued after the interval to bring about the introduction of Sverkos in place of the ineffective Jan Koller.
And Sverkos made an almost immediate impact upon the game as he broke the Switzerland offside trap to poke in his first international goal after latching onto a long Tomas Galasek header.
Switzerland could have snatched a point in Group A with 10 minutes remaining as Cech palmed out a Tranquillo Barnetta drive, but substitute Johan Vonlanthen could only rattle the rebound against the crossbar.
What the defeat, and more importantly Frei's injury, will do to the Swiss remains to be seen, but they already face an uphill struggle to qualify from a group that also includes Turkey and Portugal.
It had all began so well for Kobi Kuhn's side, who pegged back the below-par Czechs for much of the game.
A colourful, 13-minute opening ceremony preceded kick-off but when the real action got under way, it was Frei who produced the fireworks in an all-action first-half display before his injury.
The forward, who became Switzerland's all-time leading scorer with 35 goals following his brace in a warm-up match against Liechtenstein last week, screwed a 25-yard effort just wide after only 120 seconds.
Frei also drew a great save from Cech in the 21st minute as the Chelsea goalkeeper used his feet to save.
At the other end, the giant Koller - used as a lone striker by Czech Republic coach Karel Bruckner - was ploughing a lonely furrow with little success.
Koller was getting scant support from his midfield, who were more comfortable with the ball at their feet than running on to help their isolated frontman.
Indeed, the only time Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio was troubled in the opening 45 minutes was when he had to turn away a misdirected cross from David Jarolim.
Cech also defied Valon Behrami and Gokhan Inler midway through a first half Switzerland shaded, but the injury to Frei stunned the crowd as the players walked off towards the tunnel for the interval.
The experienced Hakan Yakin replaced Frei, who appeared to jar his left knee in a challenge, and the substitute almost made an immediate impact when he curled a free-kick just over.
Even without their talismanic striker, the hosts were proving too much for their opponents and Bruckner replaced Koller with domestic scoring machine Sverkos just 10 minutes into the half.
But still it was all Switzerland and left-winger Barnetta, who may now be the country's great hope in the absence of Frei, volleyed over from a good position just after the hour mark.
Yakin was getting himself into some decent positions too and he really should have done better when he headed Stephan Lichtsteiner's cross just wide of the post from eight yards.
Sverkos' winner, therefore, came against the run of play as Galasek helped the ball back into the danger area and the 24-year-old reacted quickest to prod a finish to Benaglio's left from 10 yards.
His team-mates then defended stoutly to preserve their lead, although Switzerland forward Vonlanthen will rue only hitting the bar from close range with 10 minutes remaining.