Swiss give coach perfect sendoff

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

BASEL, SWITZERLAND -- In international soccer, there are no such things as meaningless games.

Portugal had already won its group when it played Switzerland yesterday, while the Swiss were already done.

But there is always something to play for when you wear your country's sweater.

Switzerland provided outgoing coach Kobi Kuhn with the finest going-away gift possible, a 2-0 win over Portugal to avoid being shut out in Euro 2008.

The game was terrific entertainment, the teams playing as if there was a lot on the line.

The Swiss were able to deliver their present thanks to two goals by Hakan Yakin, the first in the 71st minute, the second on a penalty given up by Portuguese defender Fernando Meira in the 82nd minute.

When Yakin deposited the second high into the net, the stadium exploded in song.

"We owed it to Kobi Kuhn and the crowd to get a win and we showed today we could do it. I think it was a worthy sendoff for the coach," Yakin said. "We're still very disappointed about the two defeats, but this has helped us recover a little."

Switzerland was not expected to do anything at this tournament, although home teams normally do well. But the luck that normally visits home sides turned its back on the Swiss.

Top scorer Alexander Frei was hurt in the first game and lost for the tournament.

Against Turkey, the Swiss led in the first half but gave up an equalizer in the second and were stunned three minutes into extra time on a deflected goal.

Kuhn had to deal with the sudden illness of his wife, who was in an induced coma for nine days after an epileptic attack left her unconscious.

Kuhn stood moist-eyed as the Swiss anthem was played.

After managing the Swiss since 2001, this was Kuhn's last game. He said he wouldn't think about that until after the final whistle. But with stadium three-quarters filled with Swiss fans dressed in red and white, it had to be an emotional moment.

At the final whistle, he was hugged by his staff, while his team disappeared and returned holding a massive banner that read "Merci Kobi." They hugged him in turn.

The Portuguese made eight changes from the starting lineup that defeated the Czech Republic 3-1. There was no Cristiano Ronaldo, no Deco, no Ricardo Carvalho.

There was something at stake for the eight newcomers. It was a way to prepare should they be needed in the knockout phase and a way to show coach Luiz Felipe Scolari they would be ready. Scolari took the blame for the loss.

"I should have changed all 11 players," he said. He felt he did not have the proper mix.

Chances are good the Portuguese will play Germany in the quarter-finals and they'll have to play better defensively. Without Carvalho to anchor the defence, the Swiss created a lot of chances and could well have scored a few more.


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