Michael O’Neil’s Northern Ireland side face a difficult bump in the road to the 2018 World Cup in Russia which Northern Irish hope would be their first in more than 30 years. Standing in their way are a quality Switzerland team with plans of their own.
Northern Ireland fighting for first World Cup since 1986
Not exactly a nation renowned for its international reputation, Northern Ireland still managed to grab plenty of headlines over the past couple of years. As a country which left a rather good impression at the Euro 2016 in France, where they managed to reach the Round of Last 16, Northern Ireland presented themselves as a tough nut to crack.
O’Neil’s men always knew they were in for a challenge to get to Russia being pitted in the same group as reigning world champions Germany and the respectable Czech Republic among other rivals. Northern Ireland still managed to pip the Czech to the second place in Group C, leaving them trailing by huge four points in third. Michael O’Neil’s men will be hoping to ride the wave of optimism and positive spirit for a bit longer as they stand in front of their final obstacle on road to Russia. Five wins and only one defeat in their five home matches during the World Cup qualifiers offer great promise ahead of the crucial clash in Belfast though.
Hearts defender Aaron Hughes is ruled out from the forthcoming fixture with injury, whereas Jamie Ward and Paddy McNair are expected to be given a run having both recovered from their knocks. WBA defender Jonny Evans should be in contention to start as well.
The Swiss finished the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign as the best of second-placed nations. Their impressive records speak for themselves and Northern Ireland should definitely be worried to find out that Switzerland won all but one of their qualifying matches, eventually losing out on the top spot in Group B after a 2-0 defeat at the hands of European champions Portugal.
The total of 23 goals scored and only seven conceded is a record to be proud of and it’s also a definite indicator that Swiss will present a difficult challenge for Northern Ireland. Switzerland travel to Belfast high on confidence and belief in their quality which will be more than enough of a guarantee for a brave battle from Vladimir Petkovic’s men. Stoke City star Xherdan Shaqiri remains the biggest name in the team and the one to watch closely in Belfast. The 26-year-old midfielder scored a morale-boosting goal in his team’s 2-2 draw against Leicester – his second this season, that is bound to inject a newly found dose of self-confidence after a difficult patch in the Premier League.
Johan Djourou and Jacques Francois Moubandje are both ruled out through injury, whereas Galatasaray striker Eren Derdiyok is surprisingly not in the squad. Key man Valon Behrami joined the pack despite a thigh strain that could keep him out of the starting team.
Swiss travel to Windsor Park high on confidence and on the back of an impressive run of nine wins in ten matches. The loss to Portugal will have done little to distract Vladimir Petkovic’s man who are looking for a strong start in the World Cup playoffs in order to gain upper hand ahead of the return leg.
Top pick: Switzerland 2.30 (13/10) @WilliamHill
Alternative pick 1: Both teams to score – No 1.66 (4/6) @PaddyPower
Alternative pick 2: Under 2.5 goals 1.44 (4/9) @888sport