Switzerland hung on to their 1-0 lead over Northern Ireland from the first leg of their play-off and played out a goalless draw in the second leg in Basel yesterday to book their ticket to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Both teams created chances throughout the match played in tough, rainy conditions. Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill will be pleased his side saw more of the ball than they did in the first leg. However, they were not able to score the all-important goal to force the tie into extra time.
Within three minutes Chris Brunt attempted a shot on target from almost 30 yards out and forced Yann Sommer into making a diving save. A couple of minutes later Xherdan Shaqiri sent in a dangerous cross to the back post for Haris Seferovic, but the Benfica man was unable to direct his header on target from close range.
Switzerland continued to ask questions of Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern from chances by Blerim Dzemaili, Shaqiri and Steven Zuber, but McGovern was up to each challenge, making a string of crucial saves.
Chances were few and far between in the second half. Goalscorer from the first leg Ricardo Rodriguez drove a long-range shot a foot wide of goal early in the interval, while Northern Ireland’s Conor Washington missed a header from about ten yards out.
Rodriguez cleared a header from Jonny Evans off the goalline in stoppage time, and Switzerland had completed their mission to book their ticket to Russia 2018.
The Swiss are heading to their 11th World Cup and their fourth consecutive world finals, which is a run they also produced from 1934 to 1954.