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Swiss have to be ready for a battle against NI: Schar

 

By Steven Beacom

Switzerland defender Fabian Schar has insisted that his team must match Northern Ireland's "enormous fighting spirit"and then show they are a superior side in the eagerly awaited World Cup play-off between the two countries.

Across Europe the Swiss are considered favourites for the two legged affair, which kicks-off on Thursday at Windsor Park, but they are well aware of the danger that Michael O'Neill's men possess.

Deportivo La Coruna star Schar points out there is more to Northern Ireland than passion and pride insisting there is ability in O'Neill's ranks.

It is clear, however, that he feels Switzerland are the better team overall and if they show character in Belfast and in Basel in the return leg on Sunday their class should help take them to Russia.

"We know we will face a Northern Ireland side with enormous fighting spirit," explained Schar. "And they have quality in their side too and showed that by qualifying for the Euro 2016 finals. We feel the two games will very tight.

"It will be a tough battle in Northern Ireland and we have to resist them, be ready for a tough fight and show that we are the better team who deserve to go to Russia."

When the World Cup play-off draw was made last month, O'Neill was a contented figure having missed out on facing mighty Italy and a slick Croatia outfit.

Speaking about Switzerland at the time he said that he wanted his players to test their mental resolve in relation to qualification given that they led their group from the first match only to lose out to Portugal in the final game, meaning they finished as runners-up to the Euro 2016 winners and had to enter the play-offs.

The Swiss won their first NINE fixtures in Group B but ultimately that record wasn't good enough to guarantee them a spot in Russia.

O'Neill will be interested to learn how the Swiss feel about the situation and may afford himself a wry smile reading the comments from Schar.

"It will not be so easy for us after getting nine wins in the group stages to go into the play-offs," said the former Basel defender.

"It won't be easy to forget that. Other teams have already qualified for the World Cup with less points than we won in the group stages.

"Now we have to prove we should be in the World Cup finals."

Like the Northern Ireland players, the Swiss began to assemble yesterday for the play-off though several of their squad were in action on Sunday. They will travel to Belfast later this week and will hope Stoke City's Xherdan Shaqiri brings his club form with him to the international stage.

Shaqiri finished brilliantly for Stoke on Saturday in their 2-2 home draw with Leicester City though it's hard to imagine Northern Ireland's defence giving the Swiss playmaker the space he was allowed by the Foxes rearguard at the Britannia Stadium.

O'Neill's side will know that while Shaqiri has immense talent his temperament can be suspect. Ahead of the weekend Premier League matches Watford head coach Marco Silva suggested Shaqiri was fortunate not to be suspended following a clash with Andre Carrillo last month.

Granit Xhaka is another Switzerland player in England's top flight who is well known to the Northern Ireland fans. Yesterday the Arsenal midfielder had a testing match trying to contain a rampant Manchester City who defeated the Gunners 3-1 at the Ethiad.

Belfast Telegraph

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