Basel (Switzerland): Vaclav Sverkos scored his first goal for the Czech Republic in a 1-0 win over co-host Switzerland on Saturday in the opening match of the European Championship.
Sverkos, making only his fourth appearance for the national team, scored from 16 meters (yards) with the outside of his right foot in the 71st minute, shortly after coming on as a substitute.
Switzerland also lost influential captain and record scorer Alexander Frei when he injured his right knee. The 28-year-old striker was taken off the field in tears shortly before halftime. He returned to the bench on crutches.
''It's a disaster, of course, to lose our captain in the first game the way we did,'' said Switzerland coach Koebi Kuhn, who thought Frei damaged a knee ligament.
Sverkos ran onto Tomas Galasek's header after beating the offside trap and made no mistake with a cool finish to the left of Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio. His goal saved the Czech Republic from an otherwise poor performance that included long stretches of Swiss control.
''It was the best moment of my football career,'' Sverkos said. ''I'd be happy to score more goals.''
Switzerland missed a chance to equalize in the 80th minute. Tranquillo Barnetta's low shot was stopped by Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech after Tomas Ujfalusi appeared to handle the ball in the area. Johan Vonlanthen got the loose ball but his shot hit the crossbar, and the ball was cleared.
''I actually jumped against the ball and the ball hit my hand,'' Ujfalusi said. ''I couldn't do anything about it.''
Before the late drama, there had been few clear-cut scoring chances, with the youthful Swiss lacking a cutting edge in front of goal and the experienced Czechs happy to soak up pressure and look for chances on the counterattack.
Perhaps it was an ominous sign that Switzerland had not played a competitive match in two years, since being eliminated by Ukraine in the second round of the World Cup on penalty kicks after two hours of scoreless play.
But the Czech Republic, known in previous tournaments for its attacking football, also started defensively, with five in the midfield, and record scorer Jan Koller up front.
A defensive mistake led to Switzerland's first chance. Frei stole the ball off Jan Polak in midfield, and the Swiss record holder with 35 international goals played a quick one-two with strike partner Marco Streller, but shot wide from 20 meters (yards).
Switzerland continued to push forward with its youthful midfield _ all of whom are under the age of 24 _ mostly through Valon Behrami down the right and Gokhan Inler up the middle. Behrami shot straight at Cech from 25 meters (yards) before Inler had a low shot from the edge of the box also saved.
''This was not our best,'' Czech Republic coach Karel Bruckner said.
In the 21st minute, Switzerland had its first good opportunity. Benaglio's long clearance reached Frei after evading the entire Czech Republic defense, but Cech rushed out of his goal to make a strong save with his feet.
Frei had another shot saved by the Chelsea goalkeeper in the 36th minute, after Tomas Galasek needlessly gave the ball away to Barnetta. Cech could only send the shot in the direction of Streller, but the striker was whistled for offside.
But shortly before the break, Frei was fouled by Grygera and was sobbing when he left the field. He later walked to the dressing room and was replaced at the start of the second half by Hakan Yakin.
''They can leave the stadium with their heads up,'' Kuhn said about his players, adding he told them: ''Eat a lot, drink a lot, get enough sleep and forget about this game.''