SAINT TIENNE: Poland claimed the first Euro 2016 quarter-final place Saturday by beating Switzerland 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out after Arsenal-bound Granit Xhaka blasted his spot-kick wide.
Jakob Blaszczykowski proved again he has the midas touch for Poland as the Borussia Dortmund winger gave his side a first-half lead in the last-16 clash.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s spectacular second-half bicycle kick levelled for Switzerland and with the scores 1-1 after extra time, the clash at Saint-Etienne’s Stade Geoffrey Guichard went into penalties.
Xhaka, who will join the Gunners after the European Championship finals, sent Switzerland’s second penalty wide while Poland nailed all five kicks.
Blaszczykowski, nicknamed ‘Kuba’, drilled home Poland’s final shot to send his nation into delirium. Poland have not reached the quarter-final of a major tournament since the 1982 World Cup.
And the result meant Poland preserved their record of never having lost in 18 games when Blaszczykowski has scored. “Let’s hope it continues until the final,” the scorer said.
“It was the most difficult match so far. The Swiss made life hard for us,” said Blaszczykowski, who spent last season on loan at Fiorentina.
“We dragged it out of their hands.
“I’m delighted, it was a historic moment for us, because we are in the top eight in Europe.” The Poles will now play Portugal or Croatia in the quarter-finals in Marseille on Thursday.
Shaqiri said Xhaka will bounce back after his crushing disappointment.
“I think Granit is very professional and he can cope with it,” said man-of-the-match Shaqiri.
“He’s disappointed, but that’s football and mistakes can happen.”
It was a historic occasion for both sides as neither had previously reached the knockout stages of a Euro finals.
Despite his success in converting in the penalty shootout, Robert Lewandowski, the top scorer in qualifying with 13 goals, remains without a regular goal in France.
The Bayern Munich striker constantly dropped back into midfield to run Poland’s attack.
The Poles dominated the first half, while the Swiss ruled the second.
Poland squandered a gold-plated chance in the opening minute as a lazy pass from Swiss full-back Johan Djourou fell into Lewandowski’s path.
The star striker enticed Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer off his line, but Arkadiusz Milik fired over with the goal at his mercy.
At the other end, Blerim Dzemaili, then Admir Mehmedi had chances for the Swiss before Fabian Schaer headed straight at Lukasz Fabianski.
After creating their fair share of chances, Poland finally went ahead when Kamil Grosicki broke down the left from a Swiss corner.
His pass found Blaszczykowski unmarked at the far post and the winger drove his shot home on 39 minutes. The Swiss grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck as they hunted a second-half equaliser.
They camped in the Poland half for long spells with goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski under constant siege.
In a bid to boost their attacking options, Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic switched to two strikers for the last 30 minutes. He put Breel Embolo on for attacking midfielder Blerim Dzemaili and the move paid off.
A free-kick by Swiss dead-ball expert Ricardo Rodriguez was heading for the top right-hand corner until Fabianski’s glove intervened with 15 minutes left.
Swiss striker Haris Seferovic had his head in his hands when his shot hit the crossbar.
But Shaqiri’s brilliant left-footed effort, just inside the post in the 82nd minute, gave Fabianski no chance, as the Swiss drew level.
When extra-time started, Swiss substitute Eren Derdiyok, who was playing in attack alongside Shaqiri twice tested Fabianski as the Nati chased a winner.