Belfast Telegraph

Switzerland must be full-blooded to silence the GAWA at Windsor Park, says Petkovic

 

By Steven Beacom

Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic has told his players that they must play with their hearts and their heads to stop the Northern Ireland team and fans from getting on top of them in the first leg of the World Cup play-off at Windsor Park.

Bosnian-born Petkovic also wants his players to go back to square one and start again in their bid to make it to Russia having suffered disappointment in the group stages.

While Northern Ireland were fighting for runners-up spot even before a ball was kicked in Group C due to the presence of world champions Germany, the Swiss were only edged out of automatic qualification for next year's finals by Portugal in the final game last month.

Cristiano Ronaldo and co. defeated Switzerland 2-0, ending a streak of nine consecutive victories in the qualifiers.

It was a crushing blow to the Swiss, but Petkovic insists that they must forget about it and focus for a tough two-legged play-off against Michael O'Neill's men.

Northern Ireland would love to take a lead to Basel for Sunday's return leg without conceding a crucial away goal.

The Swiss arrived in Belfast last night intent on not losing at Windsor with the aim to score on away turf. It all adds up to a fascinating contest.

Former Lazio coach Petkovic, who has been linked to taking over AC Milan in recent weeks, knows how much his side are feeling the fact they just missed out on Russia first time around.

He has a plan to ensure it doesn't happen second time around.

Petkovic said: "We have to put the reset button on. That means we start with zero points again. We must cancel everything that happened and concentrate on the most important thing, and this is the game in Belfast."

Perhaps a little easier said than done, especially when one considers that Switzerland ended the group campaign on 27 points, which is more than several European sides who finished top of their table and are already planning for Russia. England, for example, earned 26 points while Iceland, heroes of the qualifiers to many, amassed 22.

Petkovic added: "We have a mini-tournament ahead of us and we have to be better than our opponents."

The Swiss boss will demand total commitment from his players and is clever enough to advise them not to feed what will be a frenzied atmosphere on Thursday night at Windsor Park.

Ideally he would like his team to take the influence of the famed Green and White Army out of the picture.

"In Belfast we can't be afraid to go into every duel," said the wily 54-year-old. "Every duel won by the team of Northern Ireland will be applauded by their spectators and gives another motivation to their team.

"If they win a 50-50 challenge or we make a bad pass, their fans will celebrate as if it were a goal. This team did not reach the play-offs by accident."

Switzerland's main goal threat is expected to come from Benfica striker Haris Seferovic, who was their top scorer in the qualifiers with four goals.

One potential problem for the visitors is that Seferovic has not played as much club football as he would like recently.

Petkovic was determined to play that down ahead of tomorrow's crunch clash.

He said: "That can be an advantage for two games in only three days. These players who have not played have relaxed legs and are mentally fresh. That can be very important."

Switzerland have a host of players at big clubs around Europe such as full-backs Stephan Lichtsteiner at Juventus and Ricardo Rodriguez at AC Milan.

Belfast Telegraph

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