Hosts Switzerland were desperately unlucky not to claim a point in their first-ever match in the UEFA European Under-21 finals, as a skilful and determined England team made the most of their early dominance to win their Group 1 game 2-1.
Jermain Defoe shot England ahead in the opening minutes, and although a fine Alexander Frei free-kick quickly cancelled out a Peter Crouch goal early in the second half, Switzerland just could not beat Paul Robinson in their opponents' goal to level the scores. However, in an encounter in which captains David Dunn and Ricardo Cabanas each looked dominant presences, both teams suggested that they could make good progress in this tournament. England coach David Platt gave Crouch his first Under-21 start up front alongside Defoe, and their partnership appears an inspired move.
Defoe strikes first
It was West Ham United FC's Defoe who made his mark on three minutes. Dunn, who produced intelligent balls all night, fed Jermaine Pennant down the England right, and his inch-perfect cross was converted by the grateful forward. This blow hit the hosts hard, and for the first 20 minutes England produced some superb flowing football. Grasshopper-Club's Cabanas, playing at his home ground, and the always-dangerous Frei eventually stemmed the flow with some attacking play of their own, and the skipper almost equalised on 41 minutes, but his shot flew across the face of goal after hitting Robinson's legs, one of many important saves by the Leeds United AFC goalkeeper.
England began the second half as they had the first, pressing hard for a second goal, and it came seven minutes into the half. Crouch was fouled 25 metres out, and after Dunn's free-kick crept through the wall, it was the tall Aston Villa FC striker that pounced to shoot home his first goal at this level. However, the Switzerland team regrouped after this blow, played with a panache that matched that of England before they took a two-goal lead. That advantage was halved on 57 minutes when England substitute David Prutton handballed 25 metres from goal, and Frei struck a swerving free-kick that gave Robinson no chance of a save.
Frei halves deficit
Switzerland came forward with waves of attacks that made England cling on to claim their three points. With 18 minutes to go Frei was sent through and seemed certain to score, only for Robinson to block with his legs, and Luke Young to clear off the line. And for the remainder of the game Robinson continued in this vein, using all parts of his body to prevent as second Swiss goal and get his team off to a perfect start, although the near-capacity crowd saluted the hosts' efforts after the full-time whistle ended the siege on the English defence.
'This win was lucky'
Platt conceded his team had been fortunate, saying after the game: "I feel this win was lucky, in a very close match. I hope we have not used up all our luck for the tournament." Robinson echoed his coach's comments, playing down his own important contribution. "I am lucky to have kept us in this match in the intense last 20 minutes. I don't feel like a hero, I just did my job," he said.
Swiss coach Bernard Challandes was upbeat in defeat. "I am very happy with this performance. It is a real pity we lost, as everyone can see how strong this team is, he said, going on to praise the home fans, adding: "It was a very good atmosphere, proof that Swiss fans can be excited by football." Meanwhile, Frei was pleased with his goal despite the loss, saying: "It is a pity I couldn't secure anything with my great free-kick, now the whole team have to try and be lucky [in Monday's match] against Portugal."