Having missed out on three successive tournaments since earning a place in EURO 96™, Switzerland faced a tough task in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2004™ as they were drawn in a group including Russia and the Republic of Ireland, but went on to lose just once in eight games to finish at the top of Group 10.
After beating neighbours Austria 3-2 in an August 2002 friendly, Switzerland began their campaign in emphatic fashion the next month, defeating Georgia 4-1 in Basel with Alexander Frei, Hakan Yakin, Patrick Müller and Stéphane Chapuisat scoring. Murat Yakin's goal was not enough to earn three points in Albania in October, however, with the home side getting a late equaliser top make the score 1-1, and the Swiss next faced a tricky trip to Dublin to face Ireland. However, Hakan Yakin gave the visitors the lead and, although a Ludovic Magnin own goal seemed to have given Ireland a draw, substitute Fabio Celestini's late winner secured three more points.
The new year began with an emphatic 5-1 friendly win in Slovenia in February, but in April, Georgia held the Swiss 0-0. Losing 2-1 to Italy later that month in a friendly, June saw home matches against Russia and Albania. Two Alexander Frei goals gave them an early cushion against Russia in Basel but Sergei Ignashevitch scored twice earn a draw. Against Albania, Bernt Haas gave the home side an early lead and although Altin Lala equalised, Frei restored Switzerland's advantage before half-time, and Ricardo Cabanas's third goal meant that the Group 10 leaders were able to clinch a 3-2 victory despite Ervin Skela's late penalty.
Defeat in Russia
After losing 2-0 to France in an August friendly, Switzerland looked bound for Portugal the next month when an Aleksandr Kariaka own goal gave them an early lead in their penultimate qualifier in Russia, but a Dmitri Bulykin hat-trick, and Aleksandr Mostovoi's later strike, together with the late dismissal of Cabanas, completed a miserable 4-1 defeat.
Cue for celebrations
Nevertheless, victory in their final qualifier at home to Ireland would guarantee automatic qualification for the finals, and Swizterland made the perfect start when Hakan Yakin gave them an early lead. Frei's goal on the hour wrapped up the three points and the group, and the final whistle was the cue for enthusiastic celebrations.
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