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Features

Swiss watch: Schär speaks of his pride at historic first ever quarter-final appearance

Written by Dan King

Fabian Schär has opened up about what it means to have helped the Switzerland national team make history - and to be representing Newcastle United in the quarter-finals of a European Championship.

The Magpies defender played a key role in La Nati's amazing comeback and eventual penalty shoot-out win over reigning World Cup winners France on Monday night, entering the fray in extra time to shore up the Swiss defence before stepping up to calmly slot home their second spot-kick in Budapest.

Aside from assistant head coach Graeme Jones, who is part of Gareth Southgate's England backroom staff for the tournament, Schär is now Newcastle's last man standing at Euro 2020 - something which looked extremely unlikely when a 1-1 draw with Wales, followed by a 3-0 defeat to Italy, left them on the brink of elimination from Group A.

Even when they did qualify for the last 16 courtesy of an impressive 3-1 win over Turkey, and took an early lead against Les Bleus on Monday before seeing a penalty saved which would have doubled their lead, a Karim Benzema double and a fine Paul Pogba strike meant their hopes of a first ever appearance in the last eight of a European Championship looked to be over.

But then came an 81st-minute header from Haris Seferovic and, with seconds left, an equaliser from substitute Mario Gavranovic before Switzerland's first win in a major tournament knockout game since 1938 - and surely the biggest shock of this year's competition so far - was sealed by Yann Sommer's spot-kick save from Kylian Mbappé.

That sparked incredible scenes on the pitch and in the stands, and jubilation back in Switzerland, with Schär telling nufc.co.uk: "It was a crazy, crazy night. We can all be proud of ourselves and the whole of Switzerland is very happy and behind us.

"I got videos sent, pictures sent, from Switzerland and I've seen everything. It's just crazy what it means to the whole country. They're supporting us so much and to see the joy everyone has after the game, and what they feel - this stuff gives you so much energy. It's so good to see and we're just happy to give them exactly what they want to have.

"When I see these videos and pictures, I have goosebumps. It's just crazy."

One man who wasn't celebrating the result was Allan Saint-Maximin, who tweeted that it was a "sad day" for France before adding his congratulations to club colleague Schär.

The Wil-born 29-year-old also received numerous positive comments from Magpies supporters all over the world and said: "I had a few more messages from players, too - I needed a bit of time to send them all messages back, because it was quite busy!

"It was nice to hear from players like Matt Ritchie, Andy Carroll, Dwight Gayle, Martin (Dúbravka); I don't know if everyone was watching the game but I think everybody could see what happened, especially against the world champions, against France which is a big team."

Schär was one of four Newcastle players at the tournament; Dúbravka and Ryan Fraser were both knocked out in the group stages with Slovakia and Scotland respectively, while a heart-breaking last-minute Ukraine goal on Tuesday night denied Emil Krafth's Sweden a last-eight meeting with England.

"I was sad for Emil, for them to concede a goal in the 120th minute," Schär said. "But that's football, and we just had a bit of luck in the penalties to go through. Now it's our first time in the quarter-finals, and of course I'm proud to be a player of Newcastle in the quarter-finals.

Schär throws his shirt into the crowd after Switzerland's stunning win against France

"I think it's also nice for the club, for the fans, because I'm part of this family as well."

Schär's vital spot-kick was inch-perfect and while it was a different technique, it was every bit as cool a finish as his late penalty against Fulham in Newcastle's final game of last season.

However that day, United were already ahead at Craven Cottage in a game with little riding on it, whereas on Monday night, the whole of Europe was watching and he had the expectations of a nation resting on his shoulders.

But he smiled: "To be honest, I was quite calm.

"The worst thing is when you walk from the mid-line to the penalty spot. It takes ages. But I've had this a few times in the past - I know it's a lot of pressure on each player who takes a penalty, but you just focus on what you do.

"Obviously I was very happy, and a bit relieved, that my penalty was a goal - but it was never in doubt! We all scored and it was brilliant.

"The good thing for me is, like I said, I'd had this situation a few times; in the Nations League (against England in 2019), and in the Euros in 2016 we had a penalty shoot-out against Poland where I put my penalty in but these times, we lost the penalty shoot-outs.

"Now, I see the other side. We won this time, probably the best way to win a game. The emotion after the game, I can't describe to be honest. But it's also a bit of luck - penalties are always a bit of luck - and you just have so much pressure."

The Newcastle United defender sends France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris the wrong way from the spot

Switzerland have reached the quarter-finals of World Cups before - albeit in 1934, 1938 and 1954 - but whatever happens against Spain in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Friday, Vladimir Petkovic's team have already achieved something that no other Swiss side has done before in a European Championship.

But Schär doesn't just want to settle for that.

"We have a big opportunity," he insisted. "Yeah, of course reaching the quarter-finals and what we've done so far was unbelievable, but now we're at this stage of the tournament you want to go to the next level.

"We have another big game, against one of the biggest teams, but in one game anything's possible and you saw what happened the other night.

"So we want to push everything and try to have the same energy and the same football that we had on Monday night - and I think anything is possible."

"It's our first time in the quarter-finals, and of course I'm proud to be a player of Newcastle in the quarter-finals. I think it's also nice for the club, for the fans, because I'm part of this family as well."

Fabian Schär

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