Denmark manager Age Hareide admitted he went from hell to heaven as his team mounted a staggering late comeback in Basel to extract a point off Switzerland in the battle of Group D’s top seeds. Remo Freuler’s first international goal on 19 minutes followed by two more after the break by Granit Xhaka and Breel Embolo had the Swiss in command with 14 minutes left.
Then Swiss manager Vladimir Petkovic indulged the exuberant home crowd at the St Jakob Stadium by withdrawing captain and local hero Xhaka with 12 minutes remaining to a standing ovation. Not that the healthy turnout of away fans behind the opposite goal could have anticipated it, but they witnessed a fight which saw Denmark score their side score three times in nine minutes. Maybe Irish fans shouldn’t be surprised that a team whose last defeat in the qualifier came in October 2016 possess such determination.
Goals by Mathias Jorgensen and substitute Christian Gytkjaer seemed to be consolations but the Danes conjured an equaliser deep into stoppage time. Henrik Dalsgaard completed the late siege by rising highest in the box from a corner to beat Yann Sommer. The Swiss stopper had just denied Eriksen from a free kick and Gytkjaer’s header.
“I think Switzerland got tired after travelling back from their win in Georgia,” said a relieved Denmark manager Hareide after his team’s first qualifier. “Football can be a funny game. It brings you from heaven to hell and back again. We were lucky not to be more than one goal behind at half-time but our team showed character. The first goal gave his energy and our player always talk about not being defeated.”
Switzerland are now second behind Ireland but they don’t play their two matches until the latter stages of the campaign in September and October. By then, Ireland will have travelled to Copenhagen to face their familiar foes, the nation that ended their World Cup and, to a less degree, Uefa Nations League hopes.
Switzerland’s meteoric rise from 83rd in the world to eight over the space of a decade looked to be continuing in the second match of the campaign. Not renowned for dominating teams, the Swiss still settled at the back and utilised their wing-backs in the new formation adopted by Vladimir Petkovic. It afforded Breel Embolo, the great hope of Swiss football, licence to operate in a free role and the Shalke attacker had a part in the breakthrough.
After his initial cross from the left from the left, the ball was zipped back into Albian Ajeti with his back to goal. With Denmark appealing for handball, the local striker teed the ball off for Freuler to rattle a first-time low shot past a static Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel. The Danes were restricted to efforts from outside the box and Yussuf Poulsen had strayed offside when tucking away what he thought was an equaliser soon after the restart.
Xhaka, playing in his home town, rippled the net with their second on 66 minutes before Embolo embarrassed Schmeichel by nicking the ball through his legs for the third 10 minutes later. With the Arsenal star substituted, Denmark hit back. Huddersfield defender Jorgensen nodded in Eriksen’s free kick on 84 minutes and Yussuf Poulson teed up Christian Gytkjaer to make it 3-2 four minutes later. Then came the final act to stun the home crowd.
Y Sommer (B Monchengladbach); N Elvedi (B Monchengladbach), M Akanji (B Dortmund), R Rodriguez (AC Milan); K Mbabu (Young Boys), D Zakaria (B Monchengladbach), G Xhaka (Arsenal), R Freuler (Atalanta), S Zuber (VFB Stuttgart); B Embolo (Shalke 04), A Ajeti (Basel).
Subs: L Benito (Young Boys) for Rodriguez (46), Admir Mehmedi (Wolsburg) for Ajeti (72), D Sow (Young Boys) for G Xhaka (78)
K Schmeichel (Leicester City); H Darsgaard (Brentford), S Kjaer (Seville), M Jorgensen (Huddersfield), J Stryger Larsen (Udinese); T Delaney (B Dortmund), L Schone (Ajax); Y Poulsen (Leipzig), C Eriksen (Tottenham), M Braithwaite (Middlesbrough); N Jorgensen (Feyenoord).
Subs: C Gytkjaer (Lech Poznan) for N Jorgensen (Feyenoord), PE Hojbjerg (Southampton) for Schone (both 71)
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN)