Switzerland secured a place in the finals of UEFA EURO 2004™ with a 2-0 victory against the Republic of Ireland at Saint Jakob Park in Basel.
The result ensured Köbi Kuhn's side won Group 10 and ended Ireland's own qualification hopes. Russia's victory against Georgia meant that the visitors had to win to claim a play-off place, but in the event finished in third position with eleven points from eight matches, four behind Switzerland and three adrift of Russia.
Switzerland were able to welcome back goalkeeper and captain Jörg Stiel and playmaker Hakan Yakin after injury, with striker Robbie Keane and defender Gary Breen both fit again for the visitors.
Ireland soon felt the absence of another key defender, with captain Kenny Cunningham forced to sit out the game through suspension, as the home side took the lead in the sixth minute. Alexander Frei worked space for the shot on the edge of the area and, although his effort was half-blocked, the ball found its way to the feet of Hakan Yakin, who kept his composure to round Shay Given and score.
Chapuisat goes close
The situation nearly became even worse for Brian Kerr's side two minutes later, as Stéphane Chapuisat came forward and with options left and right, his speculative shot from outside the penalty area forced Given into an improvised parry.
However, the visitors might have levelled in the tenth minute, as Damien Duff cut in from the right and played a low ball into David Connolly on the edge of the penalty area. The striker's first-time lay-off gave Colin Healy a sight of goal, but the midfield player could only drag his low shot across the face of the target.
Although the Swiss looked more settled and composed, Ireland gradually worked their way back into the match after the early setback and Gary Breen sent a free header from a corner over the crossbar.
The home team still looked more like scoring, but the visitors enjoyed their best spell shortly before half-time. However, they struggled to breach a solid and well-organised Swiss defence, although Connolly might have levelled seven minutes before the interval but his close-range header from Duff's right-wing cross was just too high.
Ireland began the second period in determined fashion, but it was the home side who came closest to scoring in the early exchanges as Raphael Wicky's cross from the left-hand corner of the penalty area rebounded off the crossbar with Given stranded.
Breen then had another chance from a corner but again his header was too high, before the decisive second goal arrived on the hour. Wicky's cross picked out Chapuisat and, although his powerful downward header was superbly saved by Given, the goalkeeper could only parry the ball and Frei was on hand to score the second to send the noisy home supporters wild with delight.
We weren't good enough to beat the Swiss tonight," admitted Ireland manager Brian Kerr after the match. "We have to accept that. Not enough of our players played as well as they can. We have given it a good go, but the handicap of losing our first two games was too much."