Poland secured their path into the European Championship quarter-finals for the first time in their history after a dramatic shootout victory over Switzerland in Saint-Etienne on Saturday afternoon.
After Jakub Blaszczykowski had given Poland a first-half lead, Xherdan Shaqiri brought the Swiss level in magnificent style, but Granit Xhaka endured a nightmare as he struck his penalty well wide of the upright to break Swiss hearts and send the Poles through to the next round.
Switzerland made just the one change from the team that drew nil-nil with hosts France in their final group game, with the experienced forward Haris Seferovic coming in for the youngster Breel Embolo.
Whilst Poland made four changes from the side that beat Ukraine by the odd goal with Krzysztof Maczynski, Kamil Grosicki, Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek returning to the starting eleven – with Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski acting as the key man for the Poles.
With both sides experiencing their first taste of knockout football, it was bound to be a nervy affair and it showed early on as Swiss keeper Yann Sommer produced a poor throw out to Johan Djourou, who sent a panicky ball across his own box which danger man Lewandowski raced onto.
The Bayern man found himself through on goal, but could only prod a weak effort goalwards to allow Sommer to atone for his earlier error to block his effort towards Arkadiusz Milik, who could only knock the rebound over the bar.
The Swiss calmed their earlier nerves though and began to pass the ball around nicely and they nearly took the lead through winger Blerim Džemaili, after the Genoa man crashed the ball against the side netting after neat work down the left-hand side.
In a tight affair, it looked as though the best chance of a goal in the first period was from a set-piece and a couple of chances in quick succession should have given the game an opening goal.
First; Poland’s Grzegorz Krychowiak nodded a golden opportunity wide of the mark, before at the other end, Fabian Schar similarly found himself unmarked only to plant his header straight at Lukasz Fabianski.
But finally the game saw some real quality five minutes before the break as the Poles turned their dominance into a goal.
Grosicki broke at pace down the left-hand side before chipping the ball across the box to Blaszczykowski, who calmly slotted the ball through the legs of Sommer to continue his fine tournament record – scoring his second goal in two games.
The ever impressive Grosicki continued to cause the Swiss back four trouble as he again broke at pace down the left, slaloming into the box before prodding the ball into the path of Lewandowski – who is still looking for his first goal of the tournament, but he was denied again as his fierce shot goalwards was well held by Sommer.
Switzerland looked far brighter in the second period and Shaqiri almost brought an equaliser for Vladimir Petkovic’s men. The Stoke City wide man fired a bullet of a shot goalwards that stung the palms of Fabianski.
That signal of intent seemed to wake Poland up again and they could’ve doubled their lead through that man Blaszczykowski. The Borussia Dortmund winger weaved himself into space before unleashing a shot towards goal, forcing Sommer into a smart save.
The game began to turn scrappy and lacked quality as the Saint-Etienne sun took its toll on the two sides, Ricardo Rodriguez did produce a rare moment of brilliance though as the Swiss began to take control.
The Wolfsburg full-back sent a bending free-kick towards the top corner, it looked destined to level the tie, but Swansea stopper Fabianski had other ideas as he dived full length to deny the defender.
Poland looked tired and it was all Switzerland as time ticked away and they went even closer to an equaliser when Seferovic struck the woodwork with a rasping drive.
And with nine minutes remaining, Switzerland’s main man Shaqiri scored a deserved equaliser for Petkovic’s men in quite magnificent fashion.
The Swiss poster boy met a half-cleared ball with an audacious overhead kick from just outside the box to beat the diving Fabianski to take the game into extra-time.
After a turgid opening 22 minutes, suddenly the Swiss produced a golden opportunity to bag a dramatic win. Shaqiri chipped a delightful ball over the top to substitute Eren Derdiyok – who found himself in acres of room, but the Kasimpasa man planted his header far too close to Fabianski and the Swansea City shot stopper made a reaction save to keep the Poles in the encounter.
The extra period failed to produce a game-winning moment, so the clash headed for penalties as the opening Round of 16 match went to the wire.
Arsenal new boy Xhaka suffered the heartbreak of firing his penalty well wide of the mark, as he became the only man to miss as Krychowiak held his nerve to smash the decisive spot-kick into the top corner to send Poland through to the quarter-finals.
Man of the Match: Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
The Stoke forward dragged his side back into the tie with a stunning strike, and was behind everything good that the Swiss produced.
The Swiss Poster Boy didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.
Following their dramatic shootout win; Poland will face the winners of Croatia vs Portugal – which takes place on Saturday evening – for a place in the semi-finals on June 30 in Marseille.