France deservedly gained a place in the UEFA European Under-21 championship final after stylishly ending the campaign of hosts Switzerland.
First-half red card
Both goals in the 2-0 victory came in the second half from Steed Malbranque and Olivier Sorlin, but the hopes of the Swiss were already slipping 40 minutes in with the sending-off of Stephan Keller for two bookings within 60 seconds. The French side had won all three of their group games and the showed why in Basel as they attacked throughout the match, Sorlin and Pegguy Luyindula constantly threatening their opponents' goal.
Swiss at full strength
Switzerland were able to go into the game with a full-strength side, having pipped Portugal and England to make this stage in their debut appearance in these finals, while France were only without defender Sylvain Armand. Swiss coach Bernard Challandes employed a defensive formation, and in the early exchanges his decision appeared a wise one, as although France held possession for much of the opening half-hour, they created few openings.
Sorlin was the first to have a good chance on 27 minutes, but his shot from Luyindula's pass hit the legs of Swiss goalkeeper Nicolas Beney, and Malbranque put the rebound over the bar. Swiss captain Ricardo Cabanas nearly shocked the French with a run and shot three minutes later, but the ball flew wide.
Keller sent off
Mickaël Landreau in the French goal had to make a diving save from Remo Meyer's header soon afterwards, but as half-time approached came Keller's miserable minute. First he was yellow-carded for a trip on Luyindula 30 metres out, and then a minute later he was sent from the pitch after a foul in almost the same position on Sidney Govou.
Malbranque opens scoring
The hosts held on until half-time, and after introducing Luca Denicola seemed to be holding on early in the second period. However, after some near misses for the Swiss attack, the 62nd minute saw France finally grab a deserved lead. And it was an excellent effort from Malbranque, who played a one-two with Luyindula before juggling the ball on the turn and then shooting past Beney.
Deserved Sorlin goal
Challandes's team looked like they could level the game after the goal, but then saw the lead doubled on 70 minutes when Sorlin capped his assured performance by cutting in from the left flank and shooting home from 25 metres. Chasing a two-goal deficit with a man less than their opponents was always a big task for the Swiss, and they were forced to spent much of the rest of the game on the defensive as Luyindula in particular was unlucky not to increase the French lead, and Malbranque put the ball in the net only to be flagged offside.
French in final
But Raymond Domenech's team were happy with the margin of victory, and could be all set to add the U21 crown to their nation's senior European title. Domenech praised the Swiss after the game, saying: "It was our toughest match. The Swiss team have great fighting spirit, teamwork and solidarity. We aimed to get as far as possible in this tournament and we did well to seal out place in the final."
'It was not to be'
Switzerland will have to settle for the consolation of having won their way through a tough group on their first finals campaign, but Challandes was delighted with his team, saying: "The players are heroes, and that's not too big a word. They are really down in the dressing room, because they believed in themselves. But it was not to be."