Switzerland dramatically stamped their ticket to the 2022 World Cup after a 4-0 win over Bulgaria saw them edge out Italy by the finest of margins.
Murat Yakin’s side started the match knowing they would require a favour from Northern Ireland against Italy in Belfast to finish top of Group C.
They got that favour as the European champions failed to make the breakthrough, drawing 0-0, meaning Switzerland qualified automatically for the 2022 World Cup while Italy dropped into the play-offs.
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The hosts controlled much of the first half and came within inches of finding the back of the net just before the break as Noah Okafor guided a right-footed shot towards the back post only for the ball to strike the woodwork.
Switzerland took the lead just three minutes into the second half when Xherdan Shaqiri, on the night he collected his 100th cap, found Okafor with a cross that the youngster converted with his head.
Shaqiri could have doubled the hosts’ advantage just before the hour mark, but saw his powerful strike from inside the box come back off the post.
Noah Okafor celebrates scoring for Switzerland
Image credit: Getty Images
However, the second Swiss goal came soon after when the lively Ruben Vargas lashed home a finish at the near post after beating the Bulgarian offside trap as thoughts turned towards Belfast.
Mario Gavranovic looked to have scored a third for Switzerland, but a VAR check showed that the 31-year-old was offside when the pass was played and the goal was ultimately chalked off.
Substitute Cedric Itten had another goal disallowed before finally scoring Switzerland’s third of the night with a powerful header after beating his marker to a cross. And Remo Freuler scored a fourth to make sure of the result as the celebrations started in Lucerne.
TALKING POINT - Switzerland held their nerve on a night of tension
On the face of things, Switzerland’s 4-0 home win over Bulgaria wasn’t all that remarkable given their superiority as a team over their opponents. However, while Yakin’s team held their nerve on the night, Italy didn’t. They could have crumbled under the pressure from an expectant home crowd, but Shaqiri and co. stepped up and embraced the occasion.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
On the night of his 100th cap, Shaqiri produced a performance that demonstrated everything he offers for Switzerland. Ruben Vargas was also lively throughout, but he didn’t have the final product that the former Liverpool attacker had. Switzerland have a lot to thank Shaqiri for. He is both their sharpest finish and also their best creator. At international level, there are few as influential as he is for his country.
Switzerland - Sommer 5, Mbabu 6, Schar 6, Frei 6, Widmer 7, Freuler 8, Zakaria 8, Vargas 8, Shaqiri 9, Okafor 8, Gavranovic 7. Subs - Steffen 7, Zeqiri 5, Sow 5, Itten 8, Aebischer 2.
Bulgaria - Karadzhov 6, Turitsov 4, Hristov 5, Dimitrov 4, Tsvetanov 5, Nedelev 6, Kostadinov 5, Chochev 3, Kirilov 4, Iliev 4. Subs - Minchev 3, Tsonev 2, Velkowski 2, Iliev 4, Yankov 3.
44’ Inside of the post! How hasn't that gone in the back of the net! Okafor guided a right-footed finish towards the back post, it beat the goalkeeper, but it didn't beat the goalkeeper!
48’ GOAL! Switzerland 1-0 Bulgaria: A huge goal for Switzerland who now have the advantage! Shaqiri stood up the cross for Okafor who found space six yards out to head into the back of the net! As things stand, Switzerland will be going top of Group C!
55’ SHAQIRI... off the post! That should have been a second Switzerland goal! The former Liverpool attacker controlled the ball inside the box, got the shot away, but could only find the post!
57’ GOAL! Switzerland 2-0 Bulgaria: Vargas has his goal and Switzerland have their second! There was a question offside against him as he lashed home the finish at the near post, but the VAR check is over and the goal stands! The Swiss are on their way to a big win!
72’ GOAL! Switzerland 3-0 Bulgaria: Itten has his goal! Steffen's cross was a good one and Itten got in front of his marker to head into the back of the net. There's no doubt about this one! As things stand, Switzerland will be finishing top of Group C and going to the World Cup.
90+2’ GOAL! Switzerland 4-0 Bulgaria: A fourth goal and that could be the goal that sends Switzerland to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar! It was a powerful strike by Freuler and Switzerland are on their way! They are surely on the plane to the World Cup finals!
Switzerland went unbeaten in eight World Cup qualification matches in Group C.
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