France are out of Euro 2020, beaten by Switzerland on penalties after an epic 3-3 draw in the Romanian capital.
It means the end of the journey at this tournament for N’Golo Kante, Olivier Giroud and Kurt Zouma. Both Kante and Giroud featured tonight, the midfielder throughout and the striker for the vast majority of extra-time.
Giroud calmly converted his spot-kick, France’s second, and with the first nine all successful, Kylian Mbappe had to score. He didn’t. Switzerland’s Yann Sommer guessed right, and his country had secured the best result in their modern football history, just reward for a terrific collective showing. They will play Cesar Azpilicueta’s Spain in the quarter-finals on Friday.
France will point to a poor first half, during which Haris Seferovic headed the Swiss in front, and an inability to close out a 3-1 lead late in proceedings as critical in the loss. They will not be repeating the heroics of the previous French generation who followed a World Cup triumph with success in the European championships.
Didier Deschamps had initially opted for a wing-back system with Antoine Griezmann dropping into a deeper position alongside Kante and Paul Pogba in midfield, but it didn’t suit France, more accustomed to a 4-2-3-1 shape. A half-time reshuffle and the introduction of Kingsley Coman helped Les Bleus improve.
It had looked like the contest would hinge on four tantalising minutes early in the second half. Switzerland were leading 1-0 when they were awarded a penalty after a VAR check, but Hugo Lloris guessed right to keep out Ricardo Rodriguez’s spot-kick.
Hitherto poor, the world champions and tournament favourites sprung to life, and by the hour they were 2-1 ahead. First Mbappe found Karim Benzema who superbly controlled and finished, and then the same man nodded in from close range following good work from Griezmann. France’s star attackers had come to life.
Switzerland had dominated the first half and could have equalised at 2-1, only for a set-piece opening to go begging. A quarter-of-an-hour remained when Pogba netted what appeared to be the killer third goal with a spectacular long-range effort, but the Swiss weren’t done.
Seferovic crashed in his second emphatic header of the game with 81 minutes on the clock, and then as this last-16 classic ticked into stoppage time, sub Mario Gavranovic conjured up a marvellous equaliser after beating his man and finishing from outside the box.
Kante had not been at his most influential in the centre of midfield, yet he still registered the most aerial duels, most interceptions and best pass completion rate in the initial 90 minutes.
Giroud was brought on for Benzema early in extra-time and was immediately in the thick of things, occupying the Swiss central defenders as Benjamin Pavard had a shot tipped over.
In the second period of extra-time fantastic work from Kante created space for Coman to find Mbappe, whose effort whistled wide. The same man missed a much clearer opener barely a minute later.
Giroud had a shot goalwards inadvertently deflected wide by Mbappe, and with almost the last touch our man did very well to divert a header on target. Sommer in the Swiss goal was at full stretch and saved.
To penalties it went, and though Giroud sent Sommer the wrong way, the Swiss were flawless and Mbappe’s miss decisive.