Belfast Telegraph

All you need to know about Northern Ireland's World Cup play-off first leg against Switzerland

From the last time the teams met to the tactics and the key players - here's a quick guide to the game.

The last time

Friendly, Letzigrund, Zürich, August 18, 2004, Switzerland 0-0 Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland: Carroll; Hughes, Craigan, Williams, Capaldi; Gillespie, Johnson, Sonner, Elliott; Healy, Smith.

The key men: Steven Davis v Xherdan Shaqiri

In their biggest games of the qualifying campaign, it’s only natural that the key battle between these two sides will depend on which team’s playmaker controls proceedings.

We all know how good Steven Davis is, and when he’s on top form he can dominate the midfield battle, which will make life a lot easier for those ahead of him.

While Shaqiri is more of an attacking option, he’ll be the go-to man for Switzerland and has the ability to conjure chances out of nothing, such is the form he’s in.

The problem for the Swiss is whether Shaqiri can carry his club form over to the international stage, something he’s had trouble doing in the past.

In contrast, Davis is a class act for Northern Ireland and is consistent in his high standard of performance. His reliability on the night could be the key decider in this tie.

Talking tactics

Expect Northern Ireland to set up slightly more defensively than in most games as they aim to prevent the Swiss from scoring what could be a vital away goal, while hoping they grab one themselves in Basel on Sunday.

That means Chris Brunt and Conor McLaughlin will sit back for most attacks in case Switzerland hit them on the counter, particularly with the pace of Xherdan Shaqiri available to Vladimir Petkovic’s side.

With Johan Djourou out injured, Northern Ireland could test the Swiss defence from out wide, particularly with the aerial presence of Kyle Lafferty in the middle.

As for the visitors themselves, they will look to feed Haris Seferovic, the Benfica striker who is in excellent form for his country.

Seferovic is a lethal finisher, which means playmaking midfielder Blerim Dzemaili will be tasked to provide good service to him through the middle.

The Swiss don’t have a fantastic aerial presence, but they do have plenty of players who can produce spectacular things.

Petkovic will give them free reign to be creative, which plays into the skillsets of the likes of Shaqiri and Gelson Fernandes.

The big statistic: Six

The number of clean sheets kept by Switzerland during their qualifying campaign, reflecting how difficult goalkeeper Yann Sommer will be to beat. In all, the Monchengladbach stopper let in only seven goals across 10 games.

The main threats

Where Northern Ireland wouldn’t have a fantastic impact off the bench in the latter parts of games, the Swiss have several players that could be game changers in the dying minutes.

The likes of Admir Mehmedi and Fabian Frei — no relation to Swiss legend Alexander — have the ability to turn the game on its head with their pace and creativity.

They complement an already star-studded line-up, that has an extra bit of bite to it that other teams perhaps don’t.

Arsenal hotshot Granit Xhaka isn’t afraid to leave a bit in on an opponent, and with Northern Ireland having several players one yellow card from suspension it’s important they don’t rise to his antics.

Of course, Xhaka is a talented player in his own right, as is the already much-lauded Xherdan Shaqiri, who will be closely watched by the Northern Irish defence at all times.

The biggest threat to Northern Ireland, however, is if they concede an away goal. That will already put them a step behind in the tie and put a whole new complexion on Sunday’s second leg in Basel.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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