Big Match Breakdown: Northern Ireland v Switzerland
Teams face-off in World Cup play-off
Northern Ireland will be hoping to secure a crucial first-leg advantage when they face Switzerland at Windsor Park this evening.
Michael O’Neill’s men finished second in their group behind world champions Germany, while Switzerland were pipped at the post by Portugal.
Victory over two-legs would provide Northern Ireland with their first World Cup berth since Mexico in 1986. Meanwhile, the Swiss are going for their fourth tournament in a row after missing out on South Korea in 2002.
Here, the Coral News Team take you through all of the vital information in your big match breakdown…
Northern Ireland should go into the game full of confidence off the back of a qualifying campaign which brought six wins and just three defeats, two of which were to Germany.
Their form at Windsor Park has been similarly impressive. They’ve won nine of their last 11 on home soil, keeping a clean sheet in eight of those victories. In competitive matches, their record is just as polished. Only Germany have managed to beat them at home since a 2013 loss to Portugal.
This is a difficult trip for Switzerland who were unlucky not to qualify automatically for the tournament in Russia. They won nine of their ten games in Group B, with only defeat to Portugal on the last matchday preventing Vladimir Petkovic’s making the tournament proper.
With defeat to A Seleccao the only blot on Switzerland’s copybook in their last 11 matches, it should be a tight affair at Windsor Park.
However, the hosts do hold an advantage when it comes to head-to-head meetings between the pair.. Although fixtures are rare between the two nations, Norn Ireland have won both times the two countries have met in Belfast, in 1964 and 1988 respectively.
The Likely XIs
Michael O’Neill is expected to keep faith with the crux of the side that performed so well during the group stages. Conor Washington could drop to the bench in place of Kyle Lafferty up-front as the Irish continue with a 4-2-3-1 system.
The visitors tend to stick with a 4-2-3-1 formation and the same is expected of them here. However, there is guaranteed to be one change from the side that lost to Portugal last time out, with Johan Djourou not in the squad. Manuel Akanji of FC Basel should replace him at centre-half. Premier League duo Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka will both keep their places up-front and in midfield.
Expect the hosts to soak up the pressure and hit their visitors on the break. That will make the defensive pivots of Steven Davis and Corey Evans a key factor, likewise with Xhaka and Remo Freuler for the Swiss.
In what should be a true battle of a game, Northern Ireland’s defence will be key to proceedings. Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley et al stood firm in the group stages and will have to be at their best once more to repel dangerous Benfica striker Haris Seferovic and his supporting cast.
The hosts also have six players in their squad who are a single game away from a booking, so a degree of gamesmanship could well be on the cards from the visitors.
In what promises to be a tight game, Northern Ireland are tantalisingly priced at 13/5. Switzerland are 23/20 to pick up first-leg success, while the draw is a similarly appealing 15/8.
With Michael O’Neill’s side so good at home, the Coral News Team believe there’s excellent value to be had in doubling up on a home win. It’s 17/4 for the hosts to win to nil and there’s still money to be made with an insurance bet of Northern Ireland or Draw at 6/10.
If there is to be a goal for the hosts it’ll likely come from the boot (or head) of either Kyle Lafferty or Josh Magennis. The former is Norn Ireland’s second-highest goalscorer while the latter has three goals in his last four games at international level. Lafferty is 21/20 to net anytime and 5/1 for the first goal, with Magennis 12/5 anytime and 6/1 to bag first.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing