Can Northern Ireland qualify for their first World Cup since 1986?

Last updated: November 8, 2017 by Leon Marshal

Game details

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Kick-off: Thursday, 19:45
Venue: Windsor Park
Coverage: Sky Sports
Home Team Form: WWWLL
Away Team Form: WWWWL
Last Meeting: Swiss 0 – 0 N. Ireland
Competition: World Cup Qualifiers

It’s the classic underdog story: A tiny nation versus a world-class juggernaut. The Ulstermen will need all the luck of the Irish in order to beat the 22nd best team in the world at Windsor Park this Thursday. But Northern Ireland do have a solid game-plan, which manifested correctly, could see them qualify for their first World Cup since 1986. Its all about staying disciplined and sticking to it throughout the game.

Their success so far is due to their iron-hard defence, leading to seven clean sheets in ten games. Against Czech Republic especially, they gave them 77% of the ball but still managed to win 2-0. No flair or possession play is needed here; just packing up at the back and hoping to capitalise on a mistake or a crucial set-piece. The form of Chris Brunt is crucial – pounding down the back, he can cross the ball into dangerous places, which might be essential for a successful counter-attacking play. This is a time for heroes, but players such as Josh Magennis, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Davis will have to successfully balance flights of individualism with hard teamwork. As long as they keep the line, they really have a chance in this first qualifying leg.

Switzerland, on the other hand, will be attacking from the off. They have the more skilful, so-called “world-class” players to make or break a game: Shaqiri can score goals from nothing, smashing them in beautifully with either foot, Granit Xhaka can play box to box and dominate the possession, and Seferović has been particularly impressive at the top of the pack. Expect Czech Republic’s possession record to be broken.

The simple fact is that winning football matches need not be beautiful. It can be ugly, cynical and even boring. The only thing that matters to this beleaguered footballing nation, coming out of years of dreadful sectarianism to be a genuinely respectable force, is getting into the World Cup. For a nation with an identity as confused as ever – Stormont talks still stalling, the prospect of a border coming back – getting into the World Cup will mean much more to them than Switzerland, a country that hasn’t really changed since 1648. For that reason alone, I see Northern Ireland getting the win.

Team News

Leader Steven Davis will make his 100th cap this Thursday. Lets hope its one that he remembers.

Michael O’Neill is banking on a close game: “”We need it to be close because I don’t think we are going to come through a high-scoring tie”

The atmosphere at Windsor Park is one of the best in the business. As former midfielder Danny Wilson says regarding Switzerland: “I think they are under massive pressure now to get the job done and ensure that the work they did up to the defeat against Portugal last month wasn’t in vain.”

Swiss hero Alexander Frei has his own predictions regarding the fixture: “It’s going to be a great meeting between the countries, but if I am to make a prediction then I say we will win 2-1 in Northern Ireland and then 3-0 in Switzerland for a total 5-1 score.”

Expected Line-Ups:

Northern Ireland (4-4-2): McGovern; Hodson, McLaughlin, McAuley, Evans; Brunt, Evans, Norwood, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty
Subs: Dallas, Paton, Washington, Flanagan, Jones, Lund, Carroll, Mannus, McGinn, Ferguson, Saville, Morris
Not available:
Switzerland (4-4-2): Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Schar, Djourou, Rodriguez; Freuler, Xhaka, Shaqiri, Dzemaili; Mehmedi, Seferovic
Subs: Lang, Zuber, Moubandje, Hitz, Mvogo, Embolo, Elvedi, Zakaria, Derdiyok, Gavranoic, Frei, Akanji
Not available:

So Far This Campaign

. . .
Northern Ireland So Far This Campaign Switzerland So Far This Campaign
2nd Group Position 2nd
6 (2) Wins (away) 9 (4)
4-0 vs. Azerbaijan Biggest Win 5-2 vs. Hungary
1 (1) Draws (away) 0 (0)
1 – 3 vs Germany Biggest Defeat 0 – 2 vs Portugal
Josh Magennis (3) Top Goal Scorer Haris Seferović (4)
Y2, R0 Discipline Y4, R1
4 Failures to Score 1
7 Clean Sheets 5
30% Both Teams to Score Games 10%
40% Over 2.5 Goals 50%%
60% Under 2.5 Goals 50%
  • Both teams have been in pretty one sided games so far. Northern Irish games have only seen both teams score 30% of the time while Swiss games only see both teams score 10% of the time.
  • With only one draw between them their entire World Cup campaigns, will Thursday be the day to break the deadlock?
  • Both teams have also been very well behaved, with only 6 yellows and one red between them.
  • Switzerland have been particularly unlucky this campaign. With 9 wins in ten games, they still fell short of Portugal, who went ahead on goal difference.

Head to Head

Last Four Competitive Meetings Between The Sides
Date Game Result Round First Goal-scorer
18/08/2004 Switzerland 0 – 0 Northern Ireland Friendly
22/04/1998 Northern Ireland 1 – 0 Switzerland Friendly Patterson 10′
14/11/1964 Switzerland 2 – 1 Northern Ireland World Cup Best 12′
14/10/1964 Northern Ireland 1 – 0 Switzerland World Cup Cossan 46′ (pen)

Conclusion & Betting Tips

Switzerland are the clear favourites to win this match at William Hill, with odds of 13/10 compared to Northern Ireland’s 12/5. This means a great outright bet if you believe, like me, that Northern Ireland can sneak in the win. However, if you are not so optimistic, why not bet on under 1.5 goals? This seems a likely possibility – given the Northern Irish defense – at odds of 13/10.