Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill reveals Northern Ireland's play-off plan to psyche out Switzerland


By Jim Gracey

Determined Michael O'Neill will wage psychological warfare on World Cup play-off rivals Switzerland in a do or die effort to secure a place in next summer's finals in Russia.

O'Neill also called on Northern Ireland fans to make Windsor Park a cauldron for the Swiss in the crucial first leg game at Windsor Park on Thursday, November 9.

The Northern Ireland boss will deploy every weapon in his armoury to lead his country to our first World Cup finals appearance in 32 years, since Mexico 1986. A positive result will be vital from the home leg ahead of the Sunday, November 12 return at Basel's own intimidating 38,000-capacity St Jakob-Park, with only 1,900 tickets going to Northern Ireland fans under Fifa's 5 per cent of capacity rule for away supporters.

As he began the mind games after yesterday's draw in Zurich, O'Neill zeroed in on Swiss insecurities at missing out on the automatic qualification place they anticipated.

"We're in a good place and with the first leg being in Belfast, we have to test where they are mentally," said O'Neill as he looked to ramp up the possible psychological impact of losing out in the last game.

O'Neill added: "Switzerland come into play-offs with nine group victories, they lost the 10th game to Portugal and probably envisaged automatic qualification, and they have to pick themselves up a little bit.

"We knew the plays-off was always going to be our route to get to Russia. Switzerland are a very good team but possibly they don't have the historical reputation of a European heavyweight like Italy or the world-class individuals that Croatia have.

"It's wrong to call it a favourable draw, but certainly beforehand we would have taken it.

"It's a good draw, not an easy draw, but a good draw as it's still a tie that we are capable of winning.

"All in all we're pleased, but we'll have to be at our best. This is two games, there's a massive prize at stake and we have to make sure we want it more than them."

O'Neill's preference before the draw had been to avoid Italy and Croatia, and he got his wish as ex-Spain and Real Madrid defender Fernando Hierro picked out the Swiss numbered ball.

O'Neill also sees an advantage in playing at home on the Thursday with the majority of his squad in action for English clubs on the Saturday before.

For the Swiss, who have players based across the continent, the likes of captain Stephan Lichtsteiner, Ricardo Rodriguez, Haris Seferovic and Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka will all feature on the Sunday and may not therefore link up for international duty until three days before the game.

"It's not easy to play away on the Thursday," O'Neill added.

"Playing on the Thursday, that's in our favour. The difficulty is with your players coming off the weekend, you've possibly 48 hours left if they're not fit or carrying a knock.

"If they have any difficult outcomes those are all things they have to deal with.

"The big thing for us is our key players remain fit between now and the game. We have to make sure whatever happens in Belfast it gets us a real foothold."

The Northern Ireland boss also sent a message to the fans, asking them to make it a 'cauldron' once again.

"We've been really good there in recent times, the atmosphere has been fantastic," O'Neill said.

"We need that, we need the crowd behind us. We want the Swiss to come and experience a cauldron of an atmosphere which will make it difficult for them,

O'Neill has been linked with the Scotland job since Gordon Strachan's departure but preferred to focus on the play-off with Switzerland.

When asked about his name being linked with the Scotland job he told Sky Sports News: "My focus has been on this draw."

Belfast Telegraph

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