Northern Ireland’s World Cup dream ended by Switzerland

Gareth McAuley lands on top of team-mate Jonny Evans as NI go close in Basel

Gareth McAuley lands on top of team-mate Jonny Evans as Northern Ireland go close in Basel

Northern Ireland’s hopes of making the World Cup finals for the first time since 1986 ended with Switzerland winning the play-off 1-0 on aggregate after Sunday’s stalemate in Basel.

The tie was decided by Ricardo Rodriguez’s controversial penalty in Belfast but both sides wasted chances to score on a soggy St Jakob Park surface.

Michael O’Neill’s team failed to register a shot on target at Windsor Park but Chris Brunt went close with two shots saved, while Rodriguez cleared Jonny Evans’ header off the line in injury time.

Striker Haris Seferovic squandered four good opportunities for the Swiss, who go through to the finals for an 11th time.

Michael McGovern also made a string a excellent saves for Northern Ireland on a heavy pitch, which passed an inspection following a severe thunderstorm.

Heartbreak for visitors

It was deep into injury time when Evans rose at the backpost to send a header towards the Swiss goal, only for the perfectly placed Rodriguez to deny Northern Ireland a chance to take it to extra-time.

AC Milan defender Rodriguez was also a pivotal figure in the the first leg, with the decision to award his spot-kick, for a Corry Evans handball, angering the Belfast hosts.

O’Neill wanted his players to channel their frustration into a powerful response in the second leg and he got his wish with an energetic and determined performance.

Yann Sommer kept out two trademark Brunt fizzers in the first half while Conor Washington flashed a header wide as the threat from Northern Ireland increased after the break.

Seferovic endured a miserable 90 minutes in front of goal with the striker missing the target with all of his clear chances.

However, it is Northern Ireland who will look back on the play-off with regret after failing the find the net in two games.

What now for O’Neill?

Michael O’Neill missed out on taking his team to back-to-back major tournaments and it could be a double blow for Northern Ireland fans if the manager decides to move on.

The 48-year-old signed a four-year contract in 2016 but O’Neill may believe the time is opportune to take up a job elsewhere after missing out on the World Cup in Russia.

O’Neill has been linked with the vacant Scotland and Sunderland posts and no doubt offers will come his way with his stock remaining high.

It could also have been a final Northern Ireland bow for a few players, including veteran defenders Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley.

Hughes made his 109th international appearance in Basel, making him the most capped defender from the home nations.

Man of the match (Michael McGovern – Northern Ireland)

McGovern performed heroics in the Euro 2016 defeat by Germany and the Norwich keeper was again in top form to deny Switzerland.

He blocked Steven Zuber’s fierce strike with his legs early in the game and finished by keeping out an angled drive from Breel Embolo.

O’Neill made four changes from the first leg and switched to a back three with Hughes, McAuley and Evans providing a solid shield for McGovern.

The new strike-force of Jamie Ward and Washington also impressed although that vital goal eluded Northern Ireland.

The stats you need to know

  • 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 (nine) as there were in the first leg at Windsor Park (two).
  • 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.

Live Text

Match ends, Switzerland 0, Northern Ireland 0.

Second Half ends, Switzerland 0, Northern Ireland 0.

Attempt saved. Ricardo Rodríguez (Switzerland) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal.

Breel Embolo (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Foul by Jonny Evans (Northern Ireland).

Steven Zuber (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Steven Davis (Northern Ireland).

Attempt blocked. Jonny Evans (Northern Ireland) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Chris Brunt with a cross.

Corner, Northern Ireland. Conceded by Steven Zuber.

Attempt blocked. Steven Davis (Northern Ireland) left footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Jordan Jones.

Attempt missed. Breel Embolo (Switzerland) right footed shot from the centre of the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Granit Xhaka with a headed pass.

Corner, Switzerland. Conceded by Michael McGovern.

Attempt saved. Breel Embolo (Switzerland) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the left is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Ricardo Rodríguez.

Breel Embolo (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Jonny Evans (Northern Ireland).

Foul by Steven Zuber (Switzerland).

Jordan Jones (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Remo Freuler (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by George Saville (Northern Ireland).

Substitution, Switzerland. Breel Embolo replaces Haris Seferovic.

Foul by Remo Freuler (Switzerland).

Stuart Dallas (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Fabian Schär (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Josh Magennis (Northern Ireland).

Attempt missed. Haris Seferovic (Switzerland) right footed shot from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Denis Zakaria.

Attempt missed. Jordan Jones (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Josh Magennis.

Substitution, Northern Ireland. Paddy McNair replaces Conor Washington.

Stephan Lichtsteiner (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Jordan Jones (Northern Ireland).

Substitution, Switzerland. Remo Freuler replaces Xherdan Shaqiri.

Jonny Evans (Northern Ireland) is shown the yellow card for hand ball.

Hand ball by Jonny Evans (Northern Ireland).

Attempt missed. Haris Seferovic (Switzerland) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Xherdan Shaqiri with a cross following a corner.

Corner, Switzerland. Conceded by Gareth McAuley.

Attempt blocked. Steven Zuber (Switzerland) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Fabian Schär.

Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Josh Magennis (Northern Ireland).

Substitution, Northern Ireland. Josh Magennis replaces Oliver Norwood.

Substitution, Northern Ireland. Jordan Jones replaces Jamie Ward.

Haris Seferovic (Switzerland) is shown the yellow card.

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