Northern Ireland v Switzerland Preview, Stats and Betting Tips, Thursday 9th November 2017, Windsor Park, Kick off: 19:45 GMT
Unable to secure top spot in their respective qualifying group, both Northern Ireland and Switzerland must now battle it out in the play-offs to secure a place in next summer’s World Cup. For Switzerland, it would be their fourth consecutive World Cup finals appearance whereas Northern Ireland are on the cusp of their first involvement since the 1982 edition of the prestigious tournament.
Northern Ireland v Switzerland Head to Head Record
- Switzerland 0-0 Northern Ireland – 18th Aug 2004, Friendly
- Northern Ireland 1-0 Switzerland – 22nd Apr 1998, Friendly
- Switzerland 2-1 Northern Ireland – 14th Nov 1964, World Cup Qualifier
- Northern Ireland 1-0 Switzerland – 14th Oct 1964, World Cup Qualifier
Northern Ireland v Switzerland Preview
Switzerland can consider themselves very unfortunate not to have secured an automatic place at Russia 2018 having won nine out of their 10 qualification matches. Defeat to Portugal in their final game meant the Portuguese leapfrogged them into top spot of Group B on goal difference.
While obviously a huge blow for Vladimir Petkovic’s men, his side will take confidence from their consistent performances during the group stages. Although they beat sides you would expect them to beat, they did so without any real scares. The 3-2 away win against Hungary the only time they were rescued by a late goal.
Northern Ireland on the other hand, rather punched above their weight in Group C, finishing four points clear of the Czech Republic. Winning a group with Germany in was never a realistic possibility so Michael O’Neill couldn’t have possibly asked for much more from this side. His squad lacks any superstars and they have been selected from a country with a population of less than 2m. Making up for this though is fantastic team spirit, no big egos and a well drilled system.
It’s these factors which has helped Northern Ireland develop such a mean defence under Michael O’Neill. During qualification, only six shots managed to find their way past Michael McGovern in the Northern Irish net and the Norwich shot stopper collected a hugely impressive seven clean sheets. Their experienced backline featuring the likes of Jonny Evans and Gareth McCauley offer the goalkeeper such great protection and this strong rearguard is not a recent trend either. Going back to the Euros last year and O’Neill’s men conceded just the three goals in their four clashes. Goals at the other end have sometimes been hard to come by but their defence will be able to make life tough for the Swiss attack.
Relevant Stats, Injuries and Suspensions
Although still not fully fit, Aaron Hughes will become the most-capped Home Nations player of all time if he features here, surpassing Bobby Moore’s record. The veteran defender, who is on the mend from a calf problem, has been recalled to the 27 man squad along with the formerly injured Jamie Ward and Paddy McNair. Nottingham Forest forward Ward is fit again after a lengthy calf problem which has forced him out of Northern Ireland’s last five qualifiers. As for McNair, the young defender reputed his cruciate ligament almost a year ago but could make a timely comeback appearance here.
For Switzerland, one of their most experienced defenders, Johan Djourou, has been left at home with a knee problem. This leaves Fabian Schar needing a new partner in the heart of defence for this hugely important clash. Francois Moubandje also misses out although the left-back did only feature in three of Switzerland’s qualification matches. Valon Behrami, who has featured 73 times for his country, is suffering from an adductor problem but much like Aaron Hughes, has been drafted in on the chance he can play. It looks likely however that the former West Ham man will only be able to feature in the second leg on Sunday.
Northern Ireland v Switzerland Tips
Northern Ireland’s tactic across the two legs will be to keep things extra tight and hopefully nick a goal, possibly from a set piece. There’s every reason to think they will be able to keep the Swiss largely quiet, at least at home, and this should make for a rather low scoring game in Belfast. Under 2.5 goals can be backed at 4/9 with Ladbrokes but more tempting is under 1.5 goals, available at 11/8 with Coral.
The visitors will not mind an uneventful game here much as they’ll fancy themselves to finish the job off in Basel. Also offering appeal is a clean sheet for Northern Ireland which can be backed at surprisingly long odds of 2/1 with Coral. Given how defensively sound they have been for many months now, this does seem like a very well-priced wager.