Swiss sneak win in friendly tournament
GENEVA, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Euro 2008 co-hosts Switzerland endured a frustrating night before beating Venezuela 1-0 in the opening match of a four-team tournament at St Jakob Park in Basel on Saturday.
Their fellow hosts Austria drew 2-2 with Costa Rica at the Stade de Geneve later in the evening on the day when the qualifying competition for the finals began in earnest.
Switzerland will play Costa Rica and Austria will play Venezuela on Wednesday.
Switzerland, who dominated most of the match against Venezuela finally got their breakthrough five minutes from time when Alexander Frei scored his 30th goal for his country after Venezuelan goalkeeper Renny Vega and his defence had thwarted the home team for most of the match.
But just when the South Americans appeared to have done enough for a draw, the keeper was finally beaten when Ludovic Magnin's inswinging free-kick from the right rebounded off substitute Mauro Lustrinelli into the path of Frei, who made no mistake from close range.
Swiss coach Kubi Kuhn welcomed back Benjamin Huggel after the four-match ban that forced him out of the World Cup but was without injured midfielders Johann Vogel and Ricardo Cabanas.
Raphael Wicky took the captain's armband in Vogel's absence and might have opened the scoring in the 12th minute but his goalbound shot was deflected wide.
That set the tone for the evening, as Switzerland's finishing failed to match some adventurous approach play.
Frei, Daniel Gygax and Marco Streller all missed good opportunities before the break, while the hosts' blushes were spared when Jose Torrealba mis-kicked in front of goal for Venezuela.
Streller added to the catalogue of missed chances with a mis-timed header at the start of the second half, and when the lanky VfB Stuttgart striker found the target at the end of a fine buildup Vega somehow blocked the effort from point-blank range with his legs.
Kuhn introduced winger Alberto Regazzoni and defender Gokhan Inler for their debuts, but it was Lustrinelli who came closest to scoring with a 30-metre drive that was pushed on to the angle of bar and post by Vega, who was then finally beaten by Frei.
In Geneva Austria twice came from behind to salvage a draw against World Cup finalists Costa Rica, for whom Alvaro Saborio opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 16th minute.
Roland Linz levelled for Austria 20 minutes later, also with a penalty after a foul on the impressive Christoph Leitgeb, but Costa Rica regained the lead when Saborio headed his second four minutes before the break.
However coach Josef Hickersberger's Austrian team responded well and Linz equalised after 61 minutes from a fine pass by Muhammet Akagunduz, and Linz went close to winning it for Austria in the final minute but Costa Rica scrambled the ball to safety.