Heartbreak For Northern Ireland After Basel Stalemate

Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland are out of the race to book a place at next summer’s Russian World Cup after a goalless draw away in Switzerland meant a slim aggregate defeat over their two legs of the play-ff.

But, there was understandable jubilation for the Swiss, we will be seeing them playing in their ninth World Cup in June after defending well enough to prevent the Irish from scoring a single goal in the tie.

However, as games without goals within them go, this one was slightly more entertaining and packed full of end to end action, especially at the business ends of both halves.

Despite being unfortunate to have ended up in the play-offs, to begin with, Vladimir Petkovic’s rode their luck all the way to Russia at times, on the right side of decisions and circumstances in both fixtures.

From the start at St. Jakob Park, the home Nation were unchanged from last Thursday’s slim and rather fortunate first-leg victory at Windsor Park.

Key men within that successful Swiss side were keeper Yann Sommer, penalty scorer in Northern Ireland Ricardo Rodriguez and playmaking Stoke City winger Xherdan Shaqiri.

Meanwhile, the visitors experimented with four changes from the disappointment of four days ago on home turf.
At right-back, Conor McLaughlin was ousted in favour of Aaron Hughes, whilst further up the field, Jamie Ward, George Saville, and Conor Washington came in for Corry Evans, Josh Magennis, and Kyle Lafferty as the away Nation went for broke.

On a night where very damp conditions indeed had turned The Joggeli pitch into something that far from resembled that of a world class Stadium, there would be action from the very off.

O’Neill’s men were the first to create as the Swiss failed to properly clear early danger and the ball fell to Chris Brunt, his effort forcing a magnificent save from Sommer.

It was then all eyes on the other end of the pitch with Shaqiri making a good run down the right, receiving the ball and delivering it to the glancing head of Haris Seferovic, his effort evading both the post and the advancing Steven Zuber.

The action within the first ten minutes wouldn’t end there as Blerim Dzemaili was neatly played in on the right side only to see his tame shot almost rifled into the roof of his own net by West Bromwich Albion man Gareth McAuley.

Another Baggies man, this time in the form of Brunt, stung the palms of Sommer once more shortly after with Shaqiri forcing a save out of Michael McGovern on the 25-minute mark.

The Norwich City man was then made to save superbly yet again, this time to keep out Zuber’s low shot after he had been slipped in by Seferovic.

A new half wouldn’t bring any less action after the break, but ironically, two things that happened in the first leg very nearly replicated themselves in the same move for the Swiss.

Just like in Belfast, Fabian Schar dived in on Stuart Dallas and was lucky not be to be given his marching orders just before Rodriguez fired wide ferociously, almost repeated his goal in the first leg, a very controversial penalty.

Two key moments laid in waiting for Northern after that, the first being a Washington header for a Stephen Ward cross on the break that sailed agonisingly wide and the second coming in added time.

It was fitting that Rodriguez was so heavily involved in the last goalmouth action of the World Cup Qualifying campaign for his nation as Jonny Evans rose to head a Brunt delivery goal-bound and the AC Milan defender was on hand to volley spectacularly off the line.

With that, the Northern Irish’s hopes of reaching a third World Cup were dashed, meanwhile, the Swiss can now look forward to The Draw for next summer’s Tournament which will be held on Friday December 1 in Moscow, who will they come up against in the Group Stages?

Man of the Match: Ricardo Rodriguez

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