Five Things To Know About The UN Telecoms Agency

In this file photo taken on February 25, 2021 the United Nations logo is seen inside the United Nations in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP
In this file photo taken on February 25, 2021 the United Nations logo is seen inside the United Nations in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP

 

 

The UN’s telecoms agency, which chooses either an American or a Russian as its new chief on Thursday, plays a key role in the rules governing radio frequencies, satellites and 5G.

The International Telecommunication Union is holding its quadrennial main conference until October 14 in Bucharest, with all eyes on who its next secretary-general will be.

Here is a look at the oldest agency in the United Nations fold, which behind the scenes sets the global standards underlying mobile phones, television and the internet.

What the ITU does

It allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits and develops technical standards that ensure networks interconnect.

The ITU was created to manage international telegraph networks but expanded its remit to new technology such as telephones, radio, television, satellites, mobile phones and the internet.

It brings together 193 member states as well as about 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organisations.

“Every time you make a phone call via the mobile, access the internet or send an email, you are benefiting from the work of ITU,” it says.

ITU’s history

The ITU was founded in 1865. Twenty countries gathered at a conference in Paris to make cross-border communications more efficient, standardising telegraphy equipment and setting uniform operating instructions.

It established “SOS” as the Morse code international maritime distress call in 1906. Following the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, a common wavelength was agreed for ships’ radio distress signals.

Its headquarters moved in 1948 from Bern to Geneva, where it today is situated in a 15-storey pentagonal silvery tower near the UN’s Palais des Nations. It joined the UN fold in 1949.

TV, mobiles, internet

The ITU’s first TV technical standards were released in 1949. Now more than 150 standards cover sound and vision broadcasting to a multitude of devices.

In 2000, technical specifications for 3G systems were agreed, allowing full interoperability of mobile systems for the first time, laying the foundation for high-speed wireless devices able to handle voice and data connection to the internet.

The ITU says the internet’s expansion from early modems to broadband owes much to its standards.

Climate change is now a major theme of the ITU’s work, notably through satellite-based weather monitoring and disaster warning systems.

Contenders for leadership

China’s Houlin Zhao reaches the end of his second four-year term as ITU secretary-general on December 31.

The two candidates to replace him are the ITU’s American development chief Doreen Bogdan-Martin and Russia’s former deputy telecoms minister Rashid Ismailov.

Bogdan-Martin, considered the favourite, wants to get more of the world online with high-speed access; Ismailov wants to humanise technological development rather than focus purely on expanding it.

The winner will be chosen by secret ballot on Thursday in Bucharest during the ITU’s plenipotentiary conference, its main decision-making body.

How it is run and funded

The ITU’s work is divided into three branches: radiocommunications, standardisation and development.

A regionally-balanced 48-member council serves as its governing body.

The ITU’s total budgeted revenues in 2021 were around 164 million Swiss francs ($165 million), of which 76 percent came from membership fees — including 66 percent from countries — with the rest from “cost-recovery activities”: publication sales, registration fees and radiocommunication filing.

‘War Crimes’ Committed In Ukraine – UN Investigators

This photograph shows a Ukrainian tank on the road near recently released Dolina village, Donetsk region, on September 22, 2022. (Photo by Anatolii Stepanov / AFP)

 

UN investigators said Friday that war crimes have been committed in the Ukraine conflict, listing Russian bombings of civilians areas, numerous executions, torture and horrific sexual violence.

“Based on the evidence gathered by the Commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” Erik Mose, the head of the investigation team, told the UN Human Rights Council.

The categorical nature of the statement was unusual.

UN investigators typically couch their findings on international crimes in conditional language, referring the final confirmation of war crimes and similar violations to courts of law.


READ ALSO: US Sanctions Iran Morality Police After Woman’s Death


The council was set up by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) — the highest-possible level of investigation — in May to investigate crimes in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The team of three independent experts was presenting their first oral update to the council, after it launched initial investigations looking at the areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, and said it would broaden the probe going forward.

Speaking a day before the seven-month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of its neighbour, Mose pointed to “the Russian Federation’s use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas,” which he said was “a source of immense harm and suffering for civilians.”

Torture, sexual violence

He highlighted that a number of attacks the team had investigated “had been carried out without distinguishing between civilians and combatants,” including attacks with cluster munitions in populated areas.

The team, he said, had been especially “struck by the large number of executions in the areas that we visited,” and the frequent “visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats.”

Mose said the commission was currently investigating such deaths in 16 towns and settlements, and had received credible allegations regarding many more cases which it would seek to document.

The investigators had also received “consistent accounts of ill-treatment and torture, which were carried out during unlawful confinement.”

Some of the victims had told the investigators they were transferred to Russia and held for weeks in prisons. Others had “disappeared” following such transfers.

“Interlocutors described beatings, electric shocks, and forced nudity, as well as other types of violations in such detention facilities,” Mose said.

The commission chief said the investigators had also “processed two incidents of ill-treatment against Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian forces”, adding that “while few in numbers, such cases continue to be the subject of our attention.”

The team had also documented cases of sexual and gender-based violence, Mose said, in some cases establishing that Russian soldiers were the perpetrators.

“There are examples of cases where relatives were forced to witness the crimes,” he said.

“In the cases we have investigated, the age of victims of sexual and gendered-based violence ranged from four to 82 years.”

The commission had documented a wide range of crimes against children, he said, including children who were “raped, tortured, and unlawfully confined.”

Switzerland Signs Contract For 36 US Fighter Jets

In this file photo taken on 20 June 2022, Brandenburg, Schönefeld, an Italian Armed Forces F-35 fighter aircraft flies over the grounds of the ILA International Aerospace Exhibition.  (Photo by WOLFGANG KUMM / DPA / dpa Picture-Alliance via AFP)

 

Switzerland signed a controversial contract on Monday to buy 36 US F-35 stealth fighter jets at a cost of more than six billion francs ($6.2 billion).

“National Armaments Director Martin Sonderegger and the Swiss F-35A Program Manager Darko Savic signed the procurement contract on 19 September 2022 at armasuisse in Bern,” said armasuisse, the country’s arms procurement agency.

“With this, the procurement of 36 F-35A is contractually agreed,” it added.

The selection of the F-35 by the Swiss government in June 2021 sparked some controversy, particularly in light of the cost-overruns of the fighter programme in the United States.

READ ALSO: DR Congo Fuel Truck Blast Kills At Least 7

But a Swiss parliamentary investigation did not call into question the selection of the fighter.

The Swiss government and parliament also short-circuited holding a referendum on the plane’s purchase despite enough signatures being collected to put the issue to voters, saying there was not enough time to do so before manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s offer expires.

But Swiss voters had already narrowly approved in September 2020 spending six billion Swiss francs to replace the country’s fleet of ageing F/A-18 Hornets and F-5 Tigers.

The F-35s will be delivered between 2027 and 2030.

Switzerland joins a growing number of European countries which have opted for the stealth multi-role combat aircraft, including Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland.

AFP

Switzerland Closes Airspace After Computer Glitch

Travellers queue at Geneva Airport on June 15, 2022 after Swiss airspace was closed after a computer glitch with the air traffic control system grounded flights at the country’s main airport.  Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

 

Switzerland closed its airspace on Wednesday after a computer glitch with the air traffic control system grounded flights, officials said.

“Swiss airspace is closed to traffic for security reasons after computer failure with Skyguide, the Swiss air traffic control service,” Skyguide said in a statement.

It did not give any details about the computer crash, but said it “regrets this incident and its consequences for the clients, partners and passengers of Geneva and Zurich airports and is working flat out to find a solution.”

READ ALSO: Macron Calls For ‘New Discussions’ With Ukraine

Earlier, Geneva’s airport said in a tweet that it was grounding all of its flights until 11 am (0900 GMT) because of the computer failure.

The Swiss news agency ATS-Keystone said international flights to Switzerland were being re-routed to Milan.

AFP

Switzerland Reports First Monkeypox Case

Monkeypox virus was first identified by Preben von Magnus in 1958 as a pathogen of crab-eating macaque monkeys
Monkeypox virus was first identified by Preben von Magnus in 1958 as a pathogen of crab-eating macaque monkeys

 

Swiss health officials on Saturday reported the country’s first case of monkeypox in a person living in the canton of Berne but who was exposed while abroad.

Berne’s health authority said the patient had been treated as a walk-in case and was now isolating at home. Everyone who had come into contact with him had been informed, it added in a statement.

“As far as we know, the person concerned was exposed to the virus abroad,” the statement added.

READ ALSO: Monkeypox Virus Spreads To North America, Europe

Health officials became aware of the case on Friday, and it was confirmed as monkeypox the following day.

Switzerland thus joins several western countries, including Britain, Germany, Spain, Sweden the United Kingdom and the United States in reporting cases, raising fears the virus may be spreading.

Symptoms of the rare disease include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions or droplets from a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding or towels.

Monkeypox usually clears up after two to four weeks, according to the World Health Organization.

The World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe Hans Kluge warned on Friday that cases could accelerate in the coming months, as the virus spread across Europe.

Most initial cases of the disease have been among men who have sex with men and sought treatment at sexual health clinics, Kluge said, adding “this suggests that transmission may have been ongoing for some time”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is investigating the fact that many cases reported were people identifying as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.

 

AFP

Thousands March In Switzerland Against Ukraine War

Particpants hold placards in front of the Swiss House of Parliament during a national demonstration for peace and against the war in Ukraine that gathered around 10'000 participants in Swiss capital Bern, on April 2, 2022. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Particpants hold placards in front of the Swiss House of Parliament during a national demonstration for peace and against the war in Ukraine that gathered around 10’000 participants in Swiss capital Bern, on April 2, 2022. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

Thousands of people braved a surprise spring snowstorm in the Swiss capital Bern on Saturday to demand an end to Russia’s devastating war in Ukraine.

In a sea of blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, with a rainbow-coloured sprinkling of PEACE banners, around 10,000 demonstrators marched through the city, according to organisers.

“We are all Ukrainian civilians,” read one banner, held by a woman bundled up in a winter coat and wool hat marching towards the Federal Palace, which houses the Swiss government and Parliament.

READ ALSO: Thousands Flee Mariupol As Red Cross Prepares Fresh Rescue Effort

“I am Russian, I am against war. Putin is Murderer,” one cardboard sign read, while another stated: “I’m Russian, I stand with Ukraine.”

Benoit Gaillard, a representative of the USS union which co-organised the march, told AFP that the fact that “10,000 people braved the cold” showed that “this war has left no one indifferent”.

Just over five weeks into the invasion, thousands have been killed and millions displaced as parts of Ukraine have been reduced to rubble.

“We need everyone to be in solidarity with us,” said Hanna Perekhoda, a Ukrainian student at Lausanne university and member of the Swiss-Ukraine support committee.

“Ukraine is protecting Europe, protecting democracy and the world against the authoritarian dictatorship of Vladimir Putin,” she told AFP.

Tighten sanctions

The demonstration was aimed at pushing Switzerland to actively engage in efforts to secure a ceasefire and a full withdrawal of Russian forces, organisers said.

The demonstrators were also demanding more support for Ukrainian refugees, and for further sanctions on Russia, including reducing dependence on Russian oil and gas.

“Peace now, No gas, No war,” one large banner read, while a woman held up a sign with a picture of Putin with a red handprint across his face demanding “Stop trade with terrorist”.

Switzerland is not in the EU and has a long-standing tradition of neutrality on matters of war. It has nevertheless been aligning itself with the waves of EU sanctions imposed following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Switzerland said last month it had frozen the equivalent of 5.75 billion Swiss francs ($6.2 billion) in Russian assets since the invasion began.

But Kyiv has been pressing Switzerland, a favoured destination for wealthy Russians and their assets, to do more.

“Russian oligarchs have their money here in Switzerland, in Swiss banks, so Switzerland is a key place to stop this war,” Perekhoda said.

“The Swiss government must take this responsibility and freeze all the assets of Russian oligarchs who finance this bloody war.”

Switzerland Adopts Same Sanctions As EU Against Russia

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis delivers a speech at the opening of a session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 28, 2022 in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

 

Traditionally neutral Switzerland will adopt all the sanctions already imposed by the EU on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, including against President Vladimir Putin, Bern said Monday.

“This is a big step for Switzerland,” Swiss President Ignazio Cassis told a press conference, after the neutral Alpine nation had for days hesitated over whether to join the international move to sanction Moscow over the attack on its neighbour.

As the European Union last week slapped Russia with biting sanctions after it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Bern initially said only that it would ensure that those penalties could not be circumvented via Switzerland.

But following a government meeting Monday, Switzerland announced it was now fully onboard with the sanctions.

READ ALSO: UEFA On Verge Of Suspending Russian Teams From All Competitions

“Switzerland will implement the sanctions in coordination with the EU,” the government, known as the Federal Council, said in a statement, adding that these were “primarily goods and financial sanctions.”

But they also included the freezing of the assets of persons and companies.

In particular, the government said Switzerland would with “immediate effect” impose the sanctions already imposed by the EU on Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

– ‘Responsible’ –

“In so doing, Switzerland is responding to the serious violations of international law for which these individuals are responsible,” it said.

The announcement came as Russia’s mission in Geneva announced that Lavrov, who had been scheduled travel to the Swiss city on Tuesday to address the United Nations Human Rights Council, had been forced to cancel his trip due to the “anti-Russian sanctions” imposed by EU countries.

The Swiss government said Monday that it would also close Swiss airspace to all flights from Russia and to all movements of aircraft with Russian markings, except for flights for humanitarian, medical or diplomatic purposes.

Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter meanwhile told reporters that five oligarchs close to the Russian president and who had strong ties to Switzerland had been banned from entering the country.

And Bern said it had decided to partially suspend a 2009 agreement on visa facilitation for Russian nationals, although holders of diplomatic passports would still be permitted to enter Switzerland without a visa.

READ ALSO: IOC Withdraws Top Olympic Honour From Putin

Switzerland had come under increasing pressure to get in line with the EU and US sanctions against Russia, with nearly all political parties backing the move.

And on Saturday, as many as 20,000 demonstrators marched in Switzerland in solidarity with Ukraine, with many loudly calling on Bern to impose sanctions.

Before shifting its approach, the government said it had carefully considered “Switzerland’s neutrality and peace policy considerations”, but that “Russia’s unprecedented military attack on a sovereign European country was the deciding factor.”

Bern stressed though that it remained willing to “actively contribute to a solution to the conflict through its good offices.”

It also said Switzerland would deliver 25 tonnes of relief supplies to Poland within coming days to help people in need in neighbouring Ukraine.

AFP

Over 100 Civilians Killed In Ukraine War, Including Seven Children – UN

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The UN human rights chief said Monday at least 102 civilians, including seven children, had been killed in Ukraine since Russia invaded five days ago, warning true numbers could be far higher.

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet said her office had recorded 406 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 102 deaths, since Russia began its full-scale attack last Thursday.

“Most of these civilians were killed by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and airstrikes,” she said, warning “the real figures are, I fear, considerably higher”.

READ ALSO: Ukraine Forms ‘International Brigade’ To Fight Russia

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the suffering in Ukraine was widespread.

“Millions of civilians, including vulnerable and older people, are forced to huddle in different forms of bomb shelters, such as underground stations, to escape explosions,” she said.

She pointed out that the UN refugee agency has already tallied 368,000 people fleeing the country as refugees, with many more displaced inside Ukraine.

“My thoughts go out to them and to all those across the world who suffer,” she said.

“The calls for peace and human rights that are coming from individuals all over the world warn us that our future must not be a world that has become unmoored from the jointly agreed obligations of international human rights law, and from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Bachelet’s comments came at the start of the UN rights council’s main annual session, which began with a vote to host an urgent debate on the Ukraine conflict later this week.

Ukraine, which had requested the debate, is expected to present a resolution calling for an investigation into Moscow’s violations in the country.

Russia had rejected Ukraine’s request for the debate and demanded the issue be put to a vote, but a large majority of the 47 council members supported Kyiv’s request.

Ukraine’s ambassador in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko, described Russia’s actions as an attack on the wider international community.

“It was an attack not only on Ukraine, it was an attack on every UN member state, on the United Nations and on the principles that this organisation was created to defend,” she said.

She said over 350 people had been killed in the five days since the invasion began, including 16 children.

AFP

UN Rights Council Votes To Hold Urgent Debate On Ukraine Conflict

Ukraine’s ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko speaks at the opening of a session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 28, 2022 in Geneva.  Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

The UN Human Rights Council voted Monday to hold an urgent debate about Russia’s deadly invasion of Ukraine at Kyiv’s request, amid widespread international condemnation of Moscow’s attack.

Ukraine’s request to hold an urgent debate at the council in Geneva was supported by 29 of the council’s 47 members, with five voting against, including Russia and China, and 13 abstentions.

Before the vote, Ukraine’s ambassador in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko, described Russia’s actions as an attack on the wider international community.

“It was an attack not only on Ukraine, it was an attack on every UN member state, on the United Nations, and on the principles that this organisation was created to defend,” she said.

She said that over 350 people had been killed in the five days since the invasion began, including 16 children.

Russia’s ambassador in Geneva Gennady Gatilov meanwhile slammed the call for a debate, insisting it was Kyiv, not Moscow who was the aggressor.

Kyiv, he said, was only trying to “distract the attention of the international community” away from its attacks on separatist regions in eastern Ukraine over the past eight years, he claimed.

“The decision to conduct a special operation to stop the tragedy in Ukraine was taken. We had no other choice,” he said, insisting that “this operation is targeted in nature, and there is no fire on civilian sites.”
His arguments failed to convince however, with an overwhelming majority of the council voting to go ahead with the debate.

It will take place on Thursday after three days of speeches by ministers and top officials from over 140 countries, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is due to speak in person on Tuesday.

Russia has become an international pariah as its forces do battle on the streets of Ukraine’s cities, facing a barrage of sanctions and banned from Western airspace and key financial networks. The UN General Assembly is also due to host a rare special session in New York Monday on the conflict.

Swiss And Austrians Drop Almost All COVID-19 Restrictions

File photo of people in Austria during a demonstration against the restrictions related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Vienna on January 31, 2021. PHOTO: ALEX HALADA / AFP

 

Alpine neighbours Switzerland and Austria on Wednesday became the latest European countries to drop almost all of their COVID-19 restrictions despite the virus still circulating strongly.

The Swiss government said the conditions were right for a “rapid normalisation” of national life.

From Thursday, the only remaining coronavirus requirements in Switzerland will be the obligation to self-isolate for five days after a positive test and to wear masks on public transport and in healthcare institutions.

However, those rules will expire at the end of March at the latest.

“The Federal Council took the decision to lift the majority of measures in place to contain the coronavirus pandemic,” the government said in a statement.

“Masks and COVID-19 certificates will no longer be required to enter shops, restaurants, cultural venues, and other public settings and events.

“The requirement to wear masks in the workplace and the recommendation to work from home will also end.”

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said the government would drop most measures from March 5.

Only mask-wearing in essential shops and public transport will remain compulsory, as well as entry restrictions at hospitals and other places with vulnerable groups, he added.

“The outlook shows us that together we can cautiously and prudently but with determination take back the freedom that the virus took,” Nehammer told reporters.

“From March 5, most of the restrictions that are burdening people will be lifted.”

Nehammer warned that the pandemic was not over yet, adding “coronavirus is still part of our lives” and that vaccination “remains important”.

Switzerland and Austria will thus join European countries including the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway in dropping most restrictions.

READ ALSO: China May Take Advantage Of Ukraine Crisis – US General

“Thanks to the high level of immunity among the population, it is unlikely that the healthcare system will be overburdened despite the continued high level of virus circulation,” the Swiss government said.

“This means that the conditions are in place for a rapid normalisation of social and economic life.”

To get into Switzerland, it will no longer be necessary to provide proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test, or complete an entry form.

Though Covid passes are being dropped domestically, Switzerland will still issue vaccination/recovery certificates that are recognised by the surrounding European Union.

Restrictions on large-scale public events and private gatherings are also being dropped from Thursday.

This month Austria became the first EU country to make coronavirus vaccination mandatory. The law, stipulating fines from mid-March for those who refuse to get jabbed, took effect on February 5.

Nehammer said the government is setting up a commission of health and judicial experts to evaluate the law before penalties are imposed given the new opening up of restrictions.

Switzerland has registered more than 2.6 million Covid-19 cases and over 12,500 deaths during the pandemic while Austria has recorded more than 2.3 million cases with more than 14,400 deaths.

The vaccination rates are almost identical with Switzerland at 70 percent and Austria at 69 percent.

AFP

Ignazio Cassis Elected As Next Swiss President

Swiss FM Ignazio Cassis attends a press conference following his election as new Swiss President by the Federal Assembly in Bern, on December 8, 2021. – Cassis will take over the country’s rotating one-year presidency in 2022. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

 

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis was elected by parliament Wednesday as the country’s next president, set to lead in 2022 amid deepening tensions over the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cassis, who will take on the largely symbolic role on January 1, insisted in his acceptance speech that “we will not allow ourselves to be divided”.

The choice of Cassis came as no surprise since it was his turn among the seven members of the Swiss government to take on the rotating one-year presidency.

The 60-year-old member of the conservative Liberal Party, who joined the government in 2017, will continue serving as Switzerland’s top diplomat while carrying out his presidential duties.

He will replace Economy Minister Guy Parmelin at the helm.

Cassis was elected with 156 out of 197 possible votes — a relatively poor score for the foreign minister, who has faced significant criticism for gaffes and inconsistent messaging.

Both he and Parmelin have been attacked for the handling of Switzerland’s relations with the European Union, after Bern in May abruptly ended years of talks aimed at sealing a cooperation agreement with Brussels.

As president, Parmelin delivered the bad news, but Cassis was widely blamed in the media for the debacle and accused of minimising the fallout from the rift with the country’s biggest trading partner.

During Wednesday’s rubber-stamp vote, the parliament also elected Health Minister Alain Berset to serve as vice president next year, positioning him to become president in 2023.

As the main face of Switzerland’s Covid response, Berset has faced widespread abuse by those opposed to measures and restrictions, and has even faced death threats.

Opponents slammed a requirement to present a so-called Covid certificate to enter many public venues, claiming it created an “apartheid” system.

They triggered a referendum last month against the law behind the pass, but following a tense campaign marked by unprecedented levels of hostility in the usually tranquil country, 62 percent of voters came out to support it.

Cassis voiced optimism Wednesday that the divisions could be healed, insisting the Swiss could rise to the challenge and would find themselves “stronger and more united than ever.”

A medical doctor by training, Cassis will be only the fifth politician from Switzerland’s Italian-speaking minority to serve as president.

Spain Beat Switzerland On Penalties To Reach Euro 2020 Semi-Finals

Spain's players celebrate after winning during the UEFA EURO 2020 quarter-final football match between Switzerland and Spain at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on July 2, 2021. MAXIM SHEMETOV / POOL / AFP
Spain’s players celebrate after winning during the UEFA EURO 2020 quarter-final football match between Switzerland and Spain at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on July 2, 2021.
MAXIM SHEMETOV / POOL / AFP

 

Goalkeeper Unai Simon was the hero as Spain edged past 10-man Switzerland 3-1 on penalties on Friday to set up a Euro 2020 semi-final against either Belgium or Italy.

After a 1-1 draw in Saint Petersburg which saw the Swiss play for 43 minutes a man down, Simon made two saves in the shoot-out to help keep Spain’s bid for a record fourth European crown alive.

“Football was just there. We are deserved winners,” said Simon, who made an embarrassing error in the 5-3 last-16 win over Croatia.

“Just like we had to erase the memory of that mistake in the last match, it’s time to quickly forget this triumph because we face a tough rival in the next match.”

It was heartbreak for Switzerland, who were bidding for reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time in their history.

Spain forged ahead early on when Denis Zakaria put through his own net, but Switzerland were the better side for long periods and Xherdan Shaqiri, standing in for the suspended Granit Xhaka as captain, equalised in the 68th minute.

The Swiss were reduced to 10 men with 13 minutes remaining, though, when midfielder Remo Freuler was controversially dismissed for a tackle on Gerard Moreno.

Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer, the hero of the penalty shoot-out win over world champions France in the last 16, made a string of fine saves in extra time.

But Simon saved from Fabian Schaer and Manuel Akanji, while Ruben Vargas blazed over in a tense finale as Spain snuck through, with Mikel Oyarzabal smashing home the winning spot-kick.

Luis Enrique’s men will take on either Belgium or Italy, who meet in Munich later Friday, at Wembley on Tuesday.

“We have to go into the semi-final fresh, confident and with our heads high. We have to win the Euro now,” added Athletic Bilbao’s Simon.

After scoring 10 goals in their previous two matches, this was a return to the type of profligate performances which saw Spain draw their first two group games against Sweden and Poland.

But the 2008 and 2012 winners had made a dream start to this quarter-final, taking the lead in fortunate circumstances in only the eighth minute.

A corner was cleared only as far as Jordi Alba, whose left-footed volley was diverted past Sommer by Switzerland midfielder Zakaria, only playing in place of Xhaka.

It was the 10th own goal of Euro 2020, more than the other 15 editions combined.

Alvaro Morata wasted an excellent opportunity by heading too close to Sommer when unmarked, but then Switzerland started to grow into the game.

Switzerland had a brilliant chance for a leveller in the 64th minute, as Shaqiri sparked a quick counter-attack which ended with Simon reacting well to keep out Steven Zuber’s stabbed effort at his near post.

Shaqiri strikes

But the underdogs found the equaliser they deserved four minutes later, as Freuler latched onto a loose ball after a mix-up in the Spanish defence and squared for Shaqiri to slot into the far corner and score his third goal of the tournament.

The pattern of the game changed in the 77th minute though, when referee Michael Oliver gave Freuler his marching orders for a sliding challenge on Spanish substitute Moreno.

Switzerland managed to keep Spain at bay until the end of normal time with relative ease, but in the third minute of the additional half an hour Moreno should have put Spain back in front, only to miskick Alba’s cross wide from close range.

Switzerland were perhaps lucky not to have another man sent off shortly afterwards, when Silvan Widmer escaped a second yellow card for a cynical foul on Dani Olmo.

Moreno somehow passed up another golden opportunity, denied at point-blank range by Sommer, before the Borussia Moenchengladbach stopper made an excellent diving save from Oyarzabal.

Sommer made eight saves in extra time alone, but his one in the shoot-out from Rodri was not enough, despite Sergio Busquets also hitting the post, as Switzerland missed three of their four penalties.

 

AFP