Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland can beat Switzerland and reach World Cup finals, says Michael O'Neill

And the boss explains why playing away in the second leg might not be so bad

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland have what it takes to beat seeded side Switzerland and seal their spot on the plane to Russia next summer.

That's according to manager Michael O'Neill, who was in positive mood despite his side drawing the highest-ranked team in the play-off draw. Switzerland are 11th in the world, 12 places above Northern Ireland but O'Neill is confident his side can cause an upset.

"It was interesting to be the first team out," he said. "We knew whatever team we got would be very difficult. Switzerland have had a great campaign but it gives us an opportunity to go to Russia. We look forward to the games and we know we'll have to be at our best to qualify but we believe we're capable of doing that."

Northern Ireland will host the Swizz first on Thursday November 9 and travel for the away leg on Sunday November 12. Being away in the second leg is not what the Green and White Army wanted. The fans were keen to have the opportunity to roar their side over the line at Windsor Park. But there are positives to it, as O'Neill was keen to remind supporters. If the tie is level, the team who has scored most away goals goes through. And that rule stays in force after extra-time, meaning if Northern Ireland could bag an extra-time goal in the second leg, it would likely see them over the line.

"The most important thing is that you don't concede an away goal in (this) situation but the away goal in a second leg can be more valuable," said the boss. "We've only lost once at home in four years. We will be prepared for the game in Belfast there's no doubt and we intend to make it a very difficult game for Switzerland, as they will look to do for us in Basel."

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