Czech Republic substitute Václav Svěrkoš crashed the party for co-hosts Switzerland by scoring the only goal of the UEFA EURO 2008 curtain-raiser in Basel.
Svěrkoš struck after 71 minutes to defeat a home side already deflated by a knee injury to forward Alexander Frei. The closest the Swiss came to rescuing a Group A point was a late Johan Vonlanthen shot off the underside of the crossbar.
If the opening ceremony did the traditional job of canning the host countries' best characteristics in an attractive package, the opening match started as anything but the typical cagey affair. There was a roar of anticipation when Switzerland captain Frei fired wide. Then Tranquillo Barnetta whipped in a cross to continue the frenzy. Valon Behrami was next to impress, outwitting Jaroslav Plašil and Marek Jankulovski before twice testing the Czech Republic's air defences.
But this was no siege. David Jarolím caused anxiety among the predominantly partisan home crowd with a cross-shot that back-tracking Diego Bengalio touched to safety. Jarolím's next act, however, was to lose a challenge to Behrami, providing the springboard for the midfielder to let fly a shot which Petr Čech parried. The deeper-lying Gökhan Inler took that as his cue to sidestep a defender and strike, albeit into Čech's arms.
It was a less intricate movement – a long thump forward unattended by Czech Republic centre-backs David Rozehnal and Tomáš Ujfaluši – which resulted in Switzerland's most incisive moment of the first half. Frei, his country's 35-goal leading scorer, darted between defenders and Čech but flicked his shot against the goalkeeper's legs.
Jan Koller has long been to the Czechs what Frei is to the Swiss. The St. Jakob-Park crowd got a reminder of the totem's menace when he escaped markers Philippe Senderos and Patrick Müller and narrowly failed to connect with Plašil's dangerous delivery.
Back at the other end, Frei stung the hands of Čech from 20 metres after a loose ball had undone Karel Brückner's side. But when Frei's left knee was caught in a tangle with Zdeněk Grygera close to half-time, the effect to the co-hosts was a far greater body blow than the challenge itself. The 28-year-old Borussia Dortmund player left the field in tears. Just what home coach Köbi Kuhn did not need.
The beginning of the second period brought some cheer. Hakan Yakin, on for Frei, announced his arrival by turning his markers and earning a free-kick which Barnetta placed centimetres too high. Then the ball just would not drop right for the No16 as he chested down Yakin's cross inside the area. Swiss passions stirred anew: Ludovic Magnin looped in a shot before Barnetta volleyed over from Stephan Lichtsteiner's inviting centre.
But after Magnin was booked for a foul on Libor Sionko, the Czech Republic forward should have scored from Jankulovski's perfectly flighted free-kick. Yakin was no less guilty with a free header as he attempted to enhance his reputation as an impact substitute. Instead, Svěrkoš took on the role with 19 minutes remaining.
Following a period of Czech pressure prompted by Sionko and Plašil, the striker latched on to Zdeněk Grygera's forward header to direct a cool, low finish to Benaglio's left – the 24-year-old's first international goal. A player from FC Baník Ostrava had just ruined Switzerland's big day.