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Switzerland frustration may hand NI psychological boost, admits Berner

 

By Liam Blackburn

Northern Ireland's World Cup play-off opponents Switzerland would consider failing to reach Russia a "major disappointment", according to ex-Leicester defender Bruno Berner.

The Swiss had a 100 per cent record in the group stage before a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in their final qualifier last month saw them miss out on top spot on goal difference alone.

However, by securing one of the eight play-off spots available to group runners-up, they have a second shot in an all-or-nothing tie with Michael O'Neill's men this week.

Northern Ireland view having such an opportunity to reach their first World Cup since 1986 as an achievement in itself but Berner, who won 16 caps for Switzerland and spent five years in England with Blackburn and Leicester, believes it would be a let-down were his country not to qualify for their fourth successive World Cup finals.

Asked whether it could be considered a disaster, Berner said: "In a way, yes. They have nine wins in the group stage and have that experience.

"Disaster is maybe too strong but there would be major, major disappointment for sure.

"I can still feel that disappointment of not qualifying directly. It's very important that Switzerland quickly move on from winning nine games and not qualifying directly."

That potential psychological impact was an aspect that O'Neill latched on to as soon as the draw was made.

Berner, himself now a manager with Swiss third-tier leaders SC Kriens, has implored his countrymen to forget about their near miss.

"In football it's about momentum. (But) it doesn't matter what happened in the group stages, both teams have to be very focused on these two games," he added.

"It could be a mental issue - nine wins but they're not in Russia. I think Northern Ireland had a tougher group - Czech Republic, Norway, Germany - the opponents were stronger and that experience will help them mentally.

"Our strength in the last two years has been attacking and I didn't see that against Portugal," acknowledged Berner.

"I hope, going to Belfast on Thursday, that Switzerland will not just sit back; hopefully they will be proactive, try to put Northern Ireland under pressure and try to create something.

"It will be a very tough place for them to play, the crowd will be behind Northern Ireland and there will be massive energy.

"If you sit back and wait and be organised, it won't be enough. We have to try to score a goal."

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