Northern Ireland’s World Cup hope shattered with a frustrating 0-0 draw against Switzerland

Switzerland vs Northern Ireland
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Through the mud and the rain of Basel, Northern Ireland gave everything they had last night, but it was not enough for a goal against Switzerland and not enough for a place at the World Cup.

In almost impossible conditions Northern Ireland threw the lot at Switzerland but having lost 1-0 in Belfast on Thursday, due to a preposterous penalty decision which will sting for years, they needed to reverse that result here. They needed a goal.

For 90 minutes here they looked like as if they were never going to score, that they did not have enough quality, edge or luck or make their way through, just as they did at Windsor Park. But then in added time Chris Brunt swung over a cross from the left, Jonny Evans got up at the far post and headed at goal. For a thrilling half-second the ball was going in and the game was going to extra-time. But then Ricardo Rodriguez volleyed it off the line and that was that.

The margins are so fine in these tense two-legged play-offs: three hours of football produced just one goal and even that never should have stood. But over the two matches Switzerland dominated both possession and chances. They should have killed off this match rather than hanging on desperately at the end, hoping their visitors did not take it to extra time. But they did not and it would not have taken much to go differently – just a re-balancing of luck – for Michael O’Neill’s men to be booking their flights to Russia on Monday morning.

So to have got this far, to the brink of the World Cup, must be a great source of pride for these players, staff and fans, although of course there were plenty of tears at the final whistle . Whatever happens in the future, Michael O’Neill has taken these players further than anyone could have imagined, and they have performed for him and for their country with a pride, effort and application that many bigger countries simply cannot match.

Not many teams would have run and pushed this hard in conditions that were almost unplayable. Had this game not had the world riding on it, it would have been written off as a farce, given how hard it was to play football out there. It had been raining sideways all day in Basel, and despite the futile re-gritting of the pitch beforehand, the ball struggled to move across it. Mud spat up with every tackle. Within minutes every player on the pitch was soaked in mud and there was always something slightly lower league about this duel to get into the biggest show on earth.

This should have helped Northern Ireland and they started with their direct purposeful football, making the most of Conor Washington’s willingness to run himself into the mud. He tried to force Switzerland back and Chris Brunt tested Yann Sommer with two rockets from 30-yards.

Switzerland were quicker and stronger and started to create the better chances, but could not finish Northern Ireland off. Zuber failed to turn in a Shaqiri cross, Gareth McAuley had to stab away Blerim Dzemaili’s cross, Haris Seferovic hit one into the side netting. Shaqiri’s shot forced Michael McGovern down low to save, Seferovic’s header hit Zuber, Zuber himself had a shot saved by McGovern’s legs before flashing another effort wide.

Team Line Ups :

Switzerland (4-2-3-1) :

Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Schar, Akanji, Rodriguez; Zakaria, Xhaka; Shaqiri (Freuler, 80), Dzemaili (Mehmedi, 61), Zuber; Seferovic (Embolo, 87)

Northern Ireland (4-5-1) :

McGovern; Hughes, Evans, McAuley, Brunt; Ward (Jones, 75), Davis, Norwood (Magennis, 75), Saville, Dallas; Washington