Arsenal’s summer signing Granit Xhaka missed from the spot as Poland beat Switzerland in a penalty shoot-out to become the first team to progress to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.
Fans were treated to one of the liveliest, end-to-end contests of the tournament so far inSaint Etienne, which saw both teams create loads of great chances.
Poland dominated the first-half and went into the half-time break with a deserved lead courtesy of Borussia Dortmund winger Jakub Blaszczykowski, who scored after a clinical counter-attack.
But the Poles sat back and allowed Switzerland back into the game in the second-half and Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored the best goal of the tournament so far to pull the Swiss level and force extra-time; finding the net with a stunning overhead kick from the edge of the box.
It was the first goal Poland had conceded in France, and the teams could not be separated by an additional 30 minutes.
Even the best players can be a victim in the lottery of a shoot-out, and this time it was Switzerland’s star midfielder Xhaka who suffered.
His spot kick was woefully off target, skewing wide of the left-hand post, while Poland kept their cool and netted all five kicks to book their place in the last eight.
It was an even contest at the end, but the first-half belonged to Poland as the Swiss struggled to make an impact.
That’s not to say the men in red didn’t have their chances. Poland were yet to concede a goal ahead of this tie, and while Switzerland did threaten to break their defensive record, the opportunities they created often lacked conviction and failed to really test Lukasz Fabianski.
The Swansea goalkeeper was probably Poland’s best player with a series of stunning stops to deny Switzerland’s best chances.
Star man Robert Lewandowski has struggled to perform at his best so far in France and he was similarly quiet here.
His strike partner, Ajax frontman Arkadiusz Milik, was presented most of Poland’s goalscoring opportunities, but he showed none of the Bayern Munich star’s prowess in front of goal; wasting three or four clear chances.
But Jakub Blaszczykowski made amends for his team-mates’ profligacy by firing the Poles ahead on the stroke of half-time.
A long throw from Fabianski sparked a rapid counter down the left flank, and the Dortmund winger was unmarked and had time to line up his shot as he fired in at the back post.
It was a deserved lead, but Switzerland rallied after the break and were the more dangerous side throughout the second period.
Most of their attacks were led by Shaqiri, who drove at the Poland defence and caused all sorts of problems at the back.
The stubborn back-four were a match for most of the Swiss attacks though, through with a mix of organised defending and desperate last-ditch blocks, and it took a moment of magic to break them
Shaqiri had earlier passed at the chance to take a well-placed free-kick – with Ricardo Rodriguez’s effort forcing a brilliant save from Fabianski – but a moment of individual brilliance from the Stoke flyer eventually had them level in the 90th minute.
A loose ball which bounced out to the edge of the box looked inviting, and the Potters star showed exquisite technique to scissor kick the ball past Fabianski and in off the post.
Extra-time was a frantic affair which produced only a few clear-cut chances, but forward Eren Derdiyok really should have won it for Switzerland when he was played through one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
His header wasn’t good enough, though, and Fabianski did well to react and push the ball wide of the goal.
It was a chance which will surely haunt the player for years to come, as Poland showed their class from the resulting shoot-out to seal their place in the next round, and dump Switzerland out of the championship.