Switzerland 0-0 Northern Ireland (1-0 agg.): World Cup dream over for Michael O'Neill's side
By Michael Hincks
Last Updated: 14/11/17 10:43pm
Northern Ireland’s World Cup dream ended in Basel as a 0-0 draw helped Switzerland secure a 1-0 aggregate victory in the play-offs.
It is the ultimate heartbreak for Michael O’Neill’s side, who saw the two-legged affair decided by a contentious penalty decision in the first leg.
The Swiss missed a host of opportunities to put the tie to bed on Sunday evening before Jonny Evans nearly sent the tie to extra-time, but his injury-time header was cleared off the line.
Northern Ireland’s wait for a first World Cup showing since 1986 goes on, while Switzerland can start preparing for Russia next summer – their fourth straight appearance in the tournament.
Switzerland: Sommer (7), Lichtsteiner (6), Schar (6), Akanji (7), Rodriguez (7), Xhaka (5), Dzemaili (6), Zakaria (7), Shaqiri (7), Seferovic (3), Zuber (6)
Subs: Mehmedi (6), Freuler (6), Embolo (7)
Northern Ireland: McGovern (8), Hughes (8), Evans (7), McAuley (8), Brunt (7), Davis (7), Saville (6), Norwood (6), Dallas (6), Ward (7), Washington (6)
Subs: Magennis (6), Jones (6), McNair (6)
Man of the match: Michael McGovern
A frantic first half at a rain-soaked St Jakob-Park saw Chris Brunt force a smart save from Yann Sommer before Haris Seferovic somehow headed wide from Xherdan Shaqiri's cross down the other end.
Gareth McAuley almost turned the ball into his own net, and though Brunt tested Sommer once more, it was the Swiss who looked more likely to score an opener.
Michael McGovern then made two vital saves in the space of four minutes, first denying Shaqiri at the near post, before going on to keep out Steven Zuber's low strike.
George Saville made his first start in the absence of the suspended Corry Evans, while Jamie Ward and Conor Washington replaced Josh Magennis and Kyle Lafferty. Switzerland named an unchanged XI.
After the break, Northern Ireland almost levelled on aggregate, but after an impressive counter-attack Conor Washington could only glance his header wide of the far post.
Seferovic was guilty of another poor miss, and the striker was eventually substituted by Breel Embolo, who was denied by McGovern from a narrow angle late on.
As the tie headed into injury time, Sommer was left flapping at thin air from a cross, but Evans' goalbound header was cleared off the line by Rodriguez, whose penalty it was in the first leg which essentially sent Switzerland through.
- Northern Ireland are still to qualify for the World Cup finals since the 1986 edition in Mexico.
- Meanwhile, Switzerland have reached their fourth successive World Cup finals. 2018 will be the first time they've featured in four straight tournaments since between 1934 and 1954.
- Despite finishing goalless, there were more than four times as many shots on target in this game (9) as there were in the first leg at Windsor Park (2).
- Including the play-off games played so far, only Christian Eriksen (38) has created more chances in this European qualifying campaign than Xherdan Shaqiri (34).
- This was the first time Switzerland failed to win a competitive home game since September 2014, when they lost 0-2 against England.
Man of the match - Michael McGovern
It was a battling performance from Northern Ireland, who came up against a Swiss side who had won nine competitive games in a row at home.
The Northern Irish back-line was outstanding, though it was McGovern in between the sticks who kept them in the tie with a number of key saves. It proved to be futile for the visitors, but McGovern and his team-mates can hold their heads high after pushing Switzerland so close.
Michael O'Neill: "They couldn't have given any more. What they give for me, what they give for each other, what they gave for their country was phenomenal.
"That performance was magnificent. Ultimately we have gone out to a really poor decision in the first leg - our reaction to what happened on Thursday night was fabulous.
"We were the better team I felt. Yes we had to ride our luck at times, but we were pushing until the end with the dream still alive to go to the World Cup.
"There's a devastated bunch of players in there, but I couldn't be any prouder of their efforts."
Switzerland become the 27th side to book their spot in Russia next year, and they will await the World Cup draw on Friday, December 1 in Moscow. You will be able to follow the draw live on Sky Sports' digital platforms.