This was billed as the night Kylian Mbappé would finally illuminate Euro 2020 and, as he stepped up to take France’s fifth penalty of a hitherto flawless shootout, the thought he could miss appeared flippant. Then Yann Sommer ripped up the script, flinging himself to his right and wheeling away in ecstasy, leaving the boy wonder on his knees; Switzerland were through, the favourites were out, and while France tried to claim Sommer had strayed from his line he still had a foot planted as Mbappé struck.
It capped an evening of drama that will be hard to rival. France thought they had won when Karim Benzema, twice, and Paul Pogba scored beautifully to overturn Haris Seferovic’s early goal. Switzerland had their own penalty trauma to deal with at that point, Ricardo Rodriguez having missed from the spot, but levelled in astonishing circumstances through Seferovic and a last-gasp drive from Mario Gavranovic. Mbappé missed the best chance of extra time and, when offered a chance to retrieve the situation, fell short.
An uneasy buildup for France presaged the difficulties that would follow. Their injury list deprived Didier Deschamps of a left-back fit to start. They had spent the previous two days preparing a back three and duly set up that way. Within 15 minutes of the start, Deschamps was left wondering how to bend his side back into shape.
Switzerland had already shown willing in an open start. The rejigged defence had not looked at ease when Remo Freuler found space and fizzed the ball just beyond Seferovic.
At the back they had survived a wayward header from Raphaël Varane after an early corner, and lived by their wits when Granit Xhaka blocked from Benzema. Their right side strained to contain Mbappé, who seemed in the mood, but they found a cutting edge of their own on their left.
Steven Zuber retrieved possession after a shot had been charged down and his chipped cross offered Seferovic all the incentive he needed. But so did the non-challenge offered by Clément Lenglet. Seferovic rose high, flexed his neck muscles and beat Hugo Lloris with a downward header.
France failed to explode in response, finding their opponents more or less immaculate in defending one-on-ones. The emergency left wing-back, Adrien Rabiot, fired across goal but Sommer tipped the ball away from Benzema. Rabiot had a dig from distance and was only a foot off target but Mbappé, whose status as free-kick taker has been under stern scrutiny, rapped against the wall from a good position.
Had Breel Embolo or Manuel Akanji got better purchase on attacking set pieces, France’s plight could have been exacerbated.
Lenglet’s replacement by Kingsley Coman must have been among the easiest half-time decisions of Deschamps’ tenure but France, their back four restored, should have been buried within 10 minutes of the restart.
Varane had just prevented a certain tap-in for Xherdan Shaqiri when Switzerland came again through Zuber. He had his legs taken away in the box by Benjamin Pavard, an offence missed initially by the referee Fernando Rapallini. VAR made no such mistake but Rodriguez made it too easy for Lloris with a penalty that lacked power; the keeper parried low to his right and within four minutes Switzerland felt sick to their core.
First Mbappé appeared to have misplaced a through ball behind him only for Benzema to bring it under his spell with a breathtaking piece of coordination, somehow flicking it into space with his heel and nudging over the advancing Sommer.
Then Antoine Griezmann worked an immaculate one-two with Mbappé before dinking a cross-shot that snicked off Sommer and allowed Benzema to head in from near the line. Pogba, finding Sommer’s top left corner from 25 yards with pace and dip, drew gasps as much as cheers.
Switzerland had showed no sign of a response so what happened next was mind-boggling. First Seferovic, flying on to Kevin Mbabu’s cross, converted another superb header. Gavranovic completed the comeback as injury time loomed, taking Xhaka’s through ball and drilling into the far corner. Incredibly Switzerland could still have lost when Coman rattled the bar with the final kick.
Extra time took off at a similar speed, which was no mean feat given the temperature as the clock approached midnight was touching 25 degrees. Admir Mehmedi flashed a header into Lloris’s arms; at the other end Pavard came closer when Sommer tipped his lofted effort over acrobatically.
The marvel, as events reached midway, was that everyone just kept going. Mbappé was never uninvolved and should have sealed the game for France. He had just dragged wide after good work from Coman when Pogba sent him through down the inside-left channel. On his weaker foot but faced only by Sommer, Mbappé blazed into the side netting.
At the death Sommer made a camera-pleasing save from Olivier Giroud, who had replaced Benzema, so Switzerland had the shootout they deserved. Things were about to get even better for them.