- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

PARIS (AP) - Switzerland closed in on a spot in the knockout stages of the European Championship for the first time with a 1-1 draw against Romania on Wednesday.

Admir Mehmedi scored a 57th-minute equalizer with a powerful left-foot shot to ensure the Swiss have four points ahead of their final Group A match against leader France, which qualified Wednesday for the round of 16 after a 2-0 victory over Albania.

In its three previous appearances at the European Championship, Switzerland has never got beyond the group stage. Against Romania, it missed an opportunity to hit coach Vladimir Petkovic’s target of two straight wins to clinch advancement with a game to spare.

For Romania, the match had echoes of its opening day loss to France, when it lost 2-1 after an 89th-minute strike from Dimitri Payet. For the second match running, Romania’s sole goal came via a penalty from Bogdan Stancu and it saw its opponent score from a sweet left-footed shot.

“Payet and then Mehmedi, they are just remarkable goals,” Romania coach Anghel Iordanescu said through a translator.

Romania took the lead against the run of play in the 18th minute when Stancu scored with his second penalty at Euro 2016, awarded after Switzerland captain Stephan Lichtsteiner pulled an opponent’s shirt.

Although Romania then hit the post through Cristian Sapunaru’s shot, Switzerland had more and better scoring chances.

“It’s not that we can’t create them. We just don’t finish them,” said Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka, who got his second straight man of the match award.

Romania has only one point from two matches, but can still finish second in the group by beating Albania in its last match.

The new 24-team format also means the third-place teams in the six groups have a good chance to reach the round of 16.

Pressing for victory, Switzerland lacked some team-first focus. Xherdan Shaqiri and Blerim Dzemaili opted for volleyed shots that flew high and wide when teen substitute Breel Embolo was better placed.

On the other end, Stancu has now totally wrong-footed two of Europe’s best goalkeepers from the penalty spot. France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was beaten to his left last Friday, while Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer guessed left as the ball went right.

In contrast, Switzerland forward Haris Seferovic once more blew his big moment at Euro 2016 after missing several chances to finish off Albania in a nervy 1-0 win last Saturday.

The big Swiss failed with two early shots after teammates picked out his clever runs at the heart of Romania’s defense. The clamor back home to start with Embolo, who replaced Seferovic in the 63rd, is likely to grow.

“After the first game I don’t think this criticism was justified,” Petkovic said about his team. “I hope you’ll be satisfied with our performance because I am.”

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