Host nation Switzerland and Italy, as winners of Group 1, advanced to the UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-finals after playing out a 0-0 draw at the Saint Jakob stadium in Basel.
Switzerland, written off prior to the competition, put in a battling performance which saw them advance to a last-four encounter with neighbours France at the expense of Portugal who were eliminated despite beating England 3-1 in a match played simultaneously in Zürich.
'Realised a dream'
Swiss coach Bernard Challandes was in ebullient mood afterwards. "We have realised a dream to qualify for the semi-finals and I'm really, really happy," he said. "This is success for Switzerland but we don't want to stop here. We want to continue this success." Italy coach Claudio Gentile was not so enthusiastic, saying: "This result was a must for us. We had opportunities at the beginning and we could not score - it was a deficiency in our game."
Although the scoreless draw ultimately suited both sides, neither set of players could be accused of taking the game lightly as the two goalkeepers each made some fine saves and five players were booked. The first yellow card came as early as the fourth minute when Andrea Pirlo felled Stéphane Grichting in frustration after failing to deceive the Swiss player with a cheeky back-heel.
Gygax goes close
A minute later Switzerland, cheered on by a partisan crowd, almost took the lead. Daniel Gygax latched on to a long ball played into the Swiss inside-right channel and unleashed a spectacular angled volley which dropped agonisingly beyond the far post. The best chance of the game came midway through the first half. Marco Marchionni broke into the Swiss penalty area and calmly squared the ball for Massimo Maccarone who could only watch in horror as his shot from seven metres struck the feet of Switzerland goalkeeper Nicolas Beney.
The ball bounced straight out to Vincenzo Iaquinta five metres but the Udinese Calcio striker side-footed a golden opportunity straight into Beney's arms with the goal at his mercy. It was as close as Italy got. Alexander Frei, who had scored a goal in each of Switzerland's first two games, went close at the other end when he stretched out a boot to help on a 28th-minute Ricardo Cabanas free-kick. Italy goalkeeper Ivan Pelizzoli was equal to the effort, though, and spread himself to deny the talented striker
Pelizzoli was called into action twice more in quick succession when Cabanas tested the AS Roma keeper with a pair of free-kicks from distance. The pace of the game became much slower after the break - hardly surprising bearing in mind the lightning speed with which the first half had been played - and chances were scarce. Instead of open, running football, the match became niggly and tempers began to fray.
Bellini out for semi
Four minutes into the half, Giampaolo Bellini was booked for tangling with Roman Friedli, a yellow card with grave consequences for the Atalanta BC defender who will now miss Saturday's semi-final. Iaquinta and Reto Zanni also squared up to one another as the pressure of the situation began to tell. Moments later the Italian had a chance to score when he cut inside from the left, but his low effort drifted wide of Beney's far post. Three bookings in a five-minute spell just after the hour mark soured proceedings slightly, with Marchionni, Johann Berisha and Cesare Natali all falling foul of referee Jacek Granat.
Settled for a draw
By this stage Portugal were 3-1 to the good in their game, meaning that, barring a remarkable English fightback, Switzerland would only need a draw to progress by virtue of beating the Portuguese on Monday night. As the news from Zürich slowly filtered around the ground and on to the pitch, the players calmed down and - bar a speculative Manuele Blasi shot which soared over the Swiss crossbar late on - the chances dried up as both teams settled for a draw.