Northern Ireland’s finals dream crushed by Switzerland in dramatic ending
World Cup qualifiying play-off, St Jakob-Park, Basel - Switzerland 0 Northern Ireland 0
Northern Ireland’s World Cup dreams were ended by Switzerland on Sunday, as they drew 0-0 in Basel.
The visitors looked much more adventurous going forward than in the first leg, with Stuart Dallas and Chris Brunt constantly threatening on the left flank. The West Brom full-back gave the visitors their best chance of the first half with a 20-yard strike, but it was nearly cancelled out when Haris Seferovic headed narrowly wide moments later.
Northern Ireland’s Steven Davis reactsReuters
In an open affair hampered by a rain-sodden surface, the Swiss were wasteful in front of goal, with Seferovic missing a gluttony of opportunities. The striker made little of the excellent service he received from Xherdan Shaqiri and Steven Zuber from the flanks.
The home side — who have won their last 10 competitive games at home — enjoyed the lion's share of possession and chances, with Northern Ireland offering too little on the counter.
The visitors suffered from a lack of creativity up front, but nearly brought themselves into the tie just before the hour mark when Conor Washington’s glancing header sailed narrowly wide.
Ultimately, Switzerland were the superior side, who threatened to put the game out of reach in the final few minutes thank to several energetic advances from substitute Breel Embolo.
However, they could not find the crucial breakthrough, with Jonny Evans having a header cleared off the line in the dying moments, and it is Switzerland who will travel to Russia next year to contest the finals.
Jonny Evans had a header cleared off the line in the dying moments but that was as close at the away team came as Switzerland became the 27th name in the hat for the World Cup Finals draw, which will take place on 1st December at the Kremlin.
TALKING POINT: How much did the penalty controversy affect this play-off?
Switzerland's controversial penalty in the first leg was enough to see them through to the World Cup Finals. Without it, would Northern Ireland have had the quality and tenacity to qualify for the first time since 1986? It's always tough to say, as an away goal always changes the complexion of a match. What is for certain is that it is a less then satisfactory way for any tie to be decided.
MAN OF THE MATCH: George Saville
In a game with few standout performances, the Millwall debutant showed plenty of promise. Saville's range of passing was excellent and his crosses brought Northern Ireland close to getting back into the tie on more than one occasion.
Switzerland: Sommer 7, Lichtsteiner 7, Schar 8, Akanji 6, Rodriquez 8, Zakaria 7, Xhaka 6, Zuber 7, Dzemaili 6, Shaqiri 7, Seferovic 5. Subs: Embolo 8, Freuler 6, Mehmedi 6
Northern Ireland: McGovern 7, Hughes 6, Evans 7, McAuley 8, Brunt 7, Davis 7, Saville 7, Norwood 7, Dallas 7, Ward 7, Washington 7. Subs: Jones 6, McNair 5, Magennis 6
3 - CHANCE: Chris Brunt takes a long-shot from 20 yards which is pushed away for a corner by Sommer.
5 - CHANCE: Shaqiri swings in a pacey cross and Seferović heads just wide from the edge of the six-yard box. The No. 9 should have put that on target.
54 - CHANCE: Northern Ireland break with Saville on the right. He puts in a cross to former postman Washington, whose header sails narrowly wide. A great chance for the visitors to get back in this one.
88 - CHANCE: Embolo breaks down the left and threads a ball back to Mehmedi on the edge of the area. He just has to put the ball in an empty net but he misses entirely!
90+1' - CHANCE: Davis forces a corner as we move into the first of four minutes of injury time. Brunt crosses in and Evans sees his header cleared off the line by Rodriguez!
George Best scored Northern Ireland’s only goal on Swiss soil in 1964.
No team has ever qualified for the World Cup after losing at home in the first leg of a play-off tie.
Northern Ireland’s last 20 games only saw both teams score once.