Thursday, November 23, 2017

Switzerland 0 Northern Ireland 0 (1-0 agg): Controversial first-leg penalty sends Swiss to World Cup

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 12 Nov 2017

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Switzerland’s controversial 1-0 first-leg win over Northern Ireland in their World Cup play-off proved decisive, as Vladimir Petkovic’s side played out an entertaining 0-0 draw in Sunday’s return fixture in Basle to secure passage to next year’s finals.

Petkovic’s men were wasteful on the day, but ultimately that did not matter, with the Swiss holding firm at the back and ensuring their lead from Belfast – claimed thanks to Ricardo Rodriguez’s contentious penalty – was enough to send Switzerland to Russia.

The first half was frantic and exhilarating in extremely sodden conditions, but Northern Ireland could count themselves more than a little lucky to remain only a goal down on aggregate at the break, with Haris Seferovic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Steven Zuber all seeing fine chances spurned in a dominant display.

Things were much the same in the second half, though Northern Ireland did appear a slightly more purposeful in attack, with Conor Washington and George Saville squandering opportunities.

Michael O’Neill’s men gained momentum as the second period progressed and subjected Switzerland to spells of pressure in the final 30 minutes.

But, the home side dug deep and held on to the draw they needed, denying a Northern Ireland side who are likely to once again highlight the impact of Rodriguez’s controversial penalty in Belfast.

Despite the conditions, the two sides produced a breathless start and both went close inside the first five minutes.

Chris Brunt worried the hosts first, forcing Yann Sommer into a flying save to keep a stunning 30-yard drive out of the top-right corner, before Seferovic inexplicably failed to direct Shaqiri’s pinpoint cross beyond Michael McGovern with a glancing header.

Alarm bells were ringing again in the visitors’ defence shortly after, as Granit Xhaka cushioned a pass in behind their backline and found Blerim Dzemaili, who saw his squared pass into the six-yard box crucially skewed over the crossbar by Gareth McAuley.

Proceedings soon settled down a little, but the Swiss remained well on top.

Shaqiri drew a smart save from McGovern after cutting in from the right in the 25th minute, and the goalkeeper came to the rescue again a few moments later, blocking Zuber’s goal-bound effort.

The hosts continued to dominate, though their impatience in attack often proved their undoing, with a couple of good moves halted early by offside calls.

 

Switzerland began the second half much like they ended the first and crafted a chance with 60 seconds – Zuber taking too long and seeing his eventual shot blocked after Stephan Lichtsteiner picked him out in space at the back post.

And Ricardo Rodriguez sent a 25-yard just wide of the right-hand post soon after.

Northern Ireland finally threatened at the other end in the 54th minute when Washington headed wide following a cross from Saville, who in turn shot straight at Sommer a few moments later after a well-placed cut-back from Stuart Dallas.

O’Neill’s men piled the pressure on towards the end and looked particularly threatening with Dallas on the left flank, but they were ultimately guilty of trying to over play in the final third.

The incredibly wasteful Seferovic should have finished the away side off late on when blazing over from just inside the area.

And Jonny Evans went desperately close to forcing extra-time in stoppage time, but Rodriguez saved Switzerland with a clearance off the line and that proved to be Northern Ireland’s final chance, as the Swiss clinched their spot at the World Cup.

 

Key Opta Facts:

– Northern Ireland are still to qualify for the World Cup finals since the 1986 edition in Mexico.
– Meanwhile, Switzerland have reached their fourth successive World Cup finals. 2018 will be the first time they’ve featured in four straight tournaments since between 1934 and 1954.
– Despite finishing goalless, there were more than four times as many shots on target in this game (9) as there were in the first leg at Windsor Park (2).
– Including the play-off games played so far, only Christian Eriksen (38) has created more chances in this European qualifying campaign than Xherdan Shaqiri (34).
– This was the first time Switzerland failed to win a competitive home game since September 2014, when they lost 0-2 against England.

 

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