Woeful Italy sent packing from Euro 2024 by super Swiss strikes
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Woeful Italy sent packing from Euro 2024 by super Swiss strikes

Switzerland's Remo Freuler celebrates scoring their first goal. (Reuters photo)
Switzerland's Remo Freuler celebrates scoring their first goal. (Reuters photo)

BERLIN: A pair of superb strikes for Switzerland by Remo Freuler and Ruben Vargas sent defending champions Italy crashing out of Euro 2024 in the round of 16 after a sloppy, rudderless display by Luciano Spalletti's side ended in a 2-0 defeat.

Though the Swiss defended well, the Italians made their job all the easier with bad passing and poor-decision-making, giving the ball away cheaply in central positions and failing to press with any vigour as they headed for the exit.

After a slow, tenuous start on a sweltering evening in Berlin, Switzerland should have taken the lead in the 24th minute when Breel Embolo was played in, but his attempt to wait out Gianluigi Donnarumma didn't succeed and the Italian goalkeeper comfortably parried his curled shot.

It was an early warning of what was to come, however, and the Italians could not hold on to the ball at all in the first half with even the most perfunctory passes finding a red shirt, rather than a blue one.

The only bright spot for the Italians was Stephan El Shaaraway, who had a golden chance of his own in the 26th minute with a typical jinking run, but despite doing well to get the ball back onto his right foot, his shot was blocked for a corner and, bafflingly, he was withdrawn at halftime.

Looking far more like defending champions than their sluggish opponents, the Swiss breakthrough came in the 37th minute with brilliantly-worked goal as they pulled the Italians apart.

Michel Aebischer roamed into the middle of the pitch, opening space on the left for Vargas, and though his pin-point pass tested Freuler's first touch, the midfielder hammered the ball home to send his side in ahead at the break.

Whatever Spalletti said at half-time did not have the desired effect and his side were two down within a minute, with Italy's ponderous, flat-footed defence taking on a spectator's role as Vargas curled a stunning shot into the top corner.

The Swiss almost threw the Italians a lifeline in the 51st minute as Fabian Schaer's glancing defensive header wrong-footed his own keeper Yann Sommer, leaving him to watch helplessly as the ball bounced up and kissed the far post before being cleared.

With the clock ticking ominously, the Italian players seemed paralysed in the face of the stout Swiss defence, resorting to speculative long shots that did little to trouble Sommer.

The woodwork intervened again in the 74th minute as Gianluca Scammacca scuffed the ball onto the near post from close range but that was as close as Italy came, and their fans were streaming out of the stands long before the final whistle, with those left in their seats dumbstruck by their team's insipid performance.

"That goal at the start of the second half cut our legs, we weren't very incisive," said Italian coach Spalletti after the game.

"What made the difference is the pace, we had a pace that was too inferior to them in the first half. Even in the individual players there was a different pace."

As the game concluded, the Swiss fans bounced and sang, knowing that their side would be going on to meet the winner of Sunday's tie between England and Slovakia in Duesseldforf next Saturday.

"The feeling is great because we showed a really good performance. We showed from the first second that we really wanted to win this game," Swiss midfielder Fabian Rieder said.

"The spirit is incredible; everyone is happy, everyone runs for everyone else, and I think we showed that on the pitch," Rieder added, a lesson the Italians would do well to learn as they limp out of the tournament.

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