Unbeaten Switzerland remain in pole position in UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 10, but visitors Albania did not make life easy for them in the summer heat of Geneva.
Bernt Haas and Alexander Frei set Switzerland on their way either side of Altin Lala's goal in the first half, and after Ricardo Cabanas scored a third 18 minutes from the end, Ervin Skela's late penalty could only prove a consolation.
Switzerland, who were held 1-1 in Albania in October, went into the game looking to return to winning ways having lost a two-goal lead in drawing 2-2 with Russia in Basel on Saturday. Albania had been desperately unlucky to lose to a late own goal in the Republic of Ireland.
Haas on target
However, it was the home side who struck first in the eleventh minute. Haas was the man on target from Murat Yakin's corner. But Albania began to take control of the game in this period, and within 12 minutes, it was 1-1. A fine passing move ended with Lala shooting past the diving Swiss goalkeeper Jörg Stiel.
Nine minutes later, though, Switzerland were back ahead. Frei, who scored both the goals against Russia, turned in a strong Hakan Yakin volley to take his personal tally to 13 from 19 internationals. This time the Swiss were able to keep control of the game until the break.
The home side began the second half strongly, and Cabanas was unlucky to see a free-kick touched over the bar by Albanian goalkeeper Foto Strakosha. However, the same player was able to beat Strakosha when he turned in a Murat Yakin free-kick.
Just when it seemed Switzerland had done enough, though, Albania pulled another back. Igli Tare was tripped in the area and Skela's penalty eluded Stiel to revive Albania's chances. They could not produce that equaliser, however, and Switzerland had a penalty of their own in stoppage time when Stéphane Chapuisat was fouled by Besnik Hasi. Hakan Yakin missed, but Switzerland were victorious and remain two points ahead of Ireland, who beat Georgia 2-0, with two games left.
'A difficult win'
After the game, Chapuisat said: "It was a very important victory, a very important three points. It was also a difficult win, especially with the heat. The Albanians made problems for us. They were very strong technically and moved the ball well." Switzerland visit third-placed Russia, who have a game in hand but are five points adrift, on 10 September.
Albania are six points behind Switzerland, but with two games left against bottom side Georgia, the home tie on 10 September, still have a slim chance of making the play-offs.