Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018

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Key men missing for Northern Ireland and Switzerland for World Cup clash

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland and Switzerland are both expected to be without key men for this month's World Cup play-off clashes.

Hearts defender Aaron Hughes appears to be losing his race to be fit for Thursday's first leg at Windsor Park while the Swiss will be without defender Johan Djourou who has a knee injury and Valon Behrami is also expected to miss out with a thigh problem.

Switzerland, who named their squad yesterday, still feel they have sufficient firepower to make it to the finals in Russia next summer and Hughes' absence from the Northern Ireland ranks is a blow to manager Michael O'Neill.

The 37-year-old was recalled to the squad after being injured for the qualifiers with Germany and Norway but he is set to miss Hearts' game with Kilmarnock tomorrow.

Hearts manager Craig Levein said: "In an ideal world, I'd like him to do a week to 10 days before coming back in."

The former Newcastle centre-half has made 108 international appearances and will surpass Bobby Moore as the home nations' most capped defender on his next appearance.

Hughes has only played six times for Hearts this season, a calf problem keeping him out since the 2-1 Scottish Premiership defeat at Dundee on September 30.

"He has been out since Dundee and has only done one day's training," Levein said of Hughes.

"If we step back and give him his seven to 10 days of full training, he wouldn't play for us on Sunday, he wouldn't play for Northern Ireland on Thursday but might be available for their next match."

After naming his squad yesterday, Switzerland boss Vladimir Petkovic said: "We will start the training camp with those 24 players who are currently the best for me and whom I'm convinced will make the World Cup qualifiers."

Meanwhile, Northampton Town have signed Northern Ireland centre-back Ryan McGivern on a deal that will run until January 2018.

Switzerland squad: Roman Burki (Borussia Dortmund), Marwin Hitz (FC Augsburg), Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach), Manuel Akanji (Basel), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Monchengladbach), Leo Lacroix (Saint-Etienne), Michael Lang (Basel), Stephen Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Ricardo Rodriguez (Milan), Fabian Schar (Deportivo La Coruna), Valon Behrami (Udinese), Blerim Dzemaili (Montreal Impact), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Edimilson Fernandes (West Ham), Gelson Fernandes (Eintracht Frankfurt), Fabian Frei (Mainz), Remo Freuler (Atalanta), Mario Gavranovic Rijeka), Admir Mehmedi (Bayer Leverkusen), Haris Seferovic (Benfica), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Denis Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach), Steven Zuber (1899 Hoffenheim).

Belfast Telegraph

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