Belfast Telegraph

Swiss are final piece of NI's play-off jigsaw as Portugal progress

 

By Adam McKendry

Northern Ireland's potential opponents in their World Cup play-off next month are Switzerland, Italy, Croatia and Denmark.

Following the conclusion of the qualifying group stages last night, the eight sides who will compete in next month's play-offs was officially confirmed.

The biggest question was answered as Portugal defeated Switzerland 2-0 in Lisbon to finish top of Group B and automatically qualify for Russia.

The second-placed Swiss were immediately pencilled in as one of the seeded teams in the play-offs and therefore are one of the four teams Michael O'Neill's side could face.

Italy, Croatia and Denmark had already had their places in the play-offs confirmed before last night and are the other three teams Northern Ireland could face next month.

Meanwhile, joining O'Neill's men in the unseeded side of the play-off draw are the Republic of Ireland - who qualified courtesy of Monday's 1-0 win over Wales in Cardiff - Sweden and Greece.

The Republic are facing something of an issue, however, as the Irish rugby team are due to play the Springboks at the Aviva Stadium on November 11, which could clash with one of their play-off dates.

FAI heads have already explored the possibility of playing their home leg of the play-off early in the preceding week or pushing it back to after the weekend to avoid any potential clashes.

• Bayern Munich star Arjen Robben has announced his international retirement after scoring two goals in the Netherlands' 2-0 win over Sweden last night.

The former Chelsea winger played 97 times for his country, scoring 37 goals.

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