Xhaka miss sends Poland into Euro 2016 quarters

Saint-Étienne (France) (AFP) – 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.

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