Sverkos strike gives Czechs first blood (Lead)

June 8th, 2008 - 2:23 am ICT by IANS  

Geneva, June 8 (DPA) A 71st-minute goal from substitute Vaclav Sverkos gave the Czech Republic a 1-0 win over hosts Switzerland in the opening match of Euro 2008. Sverkos arrived as a replacement for Jan Koller after 56 minutes, and took just 15 minutes to register the first goal of the tournament Saturday.

There was nothing pretty about the build-up, a headed clearance from half-way allowing him to muscle in behind Stefan Lichtsteiner, but having got in position to score, he took the chance superbly, striking a low shot into the bottom corner.

“I am delighted and our team can also be happy because the Swiss played better than us,” said Sverkos.

The first half had been a cagey, uninspiring affair notable primarily for the injury suffered by Alexander Frei.

He has had an injury-plagued season, but having him got himself fit for the tournament, he limped off shortly before half-time having apparently damaged his left knee.

As he was helped from the side of the pitch to the dressing-rooms, tears streamed down his cheeks: he clearly feels his tournament is over, which is awful news for him, and bad news for Switzerland who are now left without the top goalscorer in their history.

“The injury to Frei was tough for us but even without him we were able to exert a lot of pressure,” said Swiss midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta.

Frei had earlier had the once chance of note, running on to a huge clearance from Diego Benaglio and then striking his shot against the left boot of goalkeeper Petr Cech.

Frei’s replacement, Hakan Yakin, showed exactly how much his finishing will be missed by heading badly wide after being picked out by Valon Behrami’s right-wing cross.

Switzerland’s best chance of the second half, though, fell to Johan Vonlanthen.

As Cech saved Tranquillo Barnetta’s 81st-minute drive, the ball bounced back to the young Red Bull Salzburg forward, but his follow- up slapped the face of the bar.

“Three points are a good start for us,” said a happy Czech coach Karel Bruckner afterwards. “Luck is part of football. We played quite tactically today, a bit defensive because if we lost then we would have had virtually no chance of progressing.”

Instead it is Swiss coach Jakob Kuhn who has the task of trying to pick his team up and somehow manufacture wins against Portugal and Turkey, who meet in the later Group A game.

“I think that we can leave with our heads held high after this performance,” he said. “We didn’t deserve to lose but we can do nothing else now but forget this game. Portugal also lost their first game four years ago and still made it to the final.”

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