Northern Ireland's finals dream crushed by Switzerland in dramatic ending
Switzerland 0 - 0 Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's finals dream crushed by Switzerland in dramatic ending

13/11/2017

Northern Ireland saw their World Cup dream die in Basel on Sunday, though it was a controversial penalty three days earlier that ultimately sent Switzerland through to Russia.

The Green and White Army will spend years seething over Ovidiu Hategan's decision to give a spot-kick for a handball against Corry Evans at Windsor Park, with the Northern Irish unable to overcome the deficit in a 0-0 draw at St Jakob-Park.

Michael O'Neill's side went down fighting, with the type of spirit that has typified his tenure -- which may now come to an end given the work he has done in taking his small country to the brink of a first World Cup in 32 years.

It might have continued had Jonny Evans' stoppage-time header not been cleared off the line, fittingly, by Ricardo Rodriguez, the man who converted from 12 yards in Belfast to send Switzerland to their fourth straight World Cup.

O'Neill's bold team selection, which featured four changes and Stuart Dallas despite an injury concern, was reminiscent of the way he shuffled his pack against Ukraine at Euro 2016 when Northern Ireland were facing elimination after a poor performance against Poland.

And, as on that occasion, there was a vast improvement. The Northern Irish failed to register a single shot on target in Belfast but they threatened three times in the opening five minutes in Basel, most notably when Brunt's long-range effort was pushed behind by Yann Sommer.

The Swiss finally awoke as Haris Seferovic glanced Xherdan Shaqiri's cross wide and Blerim Dzemaili's drive across the six-yard box was diverted over by Gareth McAuley's outstretched leg.

The visitors were pressing higher, with more energy and in greater numbers, and the tension that was on the field in Belfast was instead in the stands here as another rasping Brunt effort tested Sommer.

Michael McGovern was keeping the visitors in the tie, saving at his near post from Shaqiri and with his legs from Steven Zuber, as his outfield teammates notably tired on a quagmire of a pitch ruined by rain.

The first big chance the visitors were craving came nine minutes after the break with a terrific counter instigated by George Saville.

His pass to the right flank was seized upon by Jamie Ward and the Nottingham Forest winger's cross was met by a Conor Washington header that just looped past Sommer's far post.

That seemed to spook Switzerland into settling for what they already had as Northern Ireland started to take control, even if further chances were not forthcoming.

O'Neill brought on the more physical Josh Magennis and debutant Jordan Jones and switched to a 4-4-2 that soon featured centre-back Gareth McAuley as one of the forwards.

Seferovic spurned another chance -- which probably contributed to the boos he received when taken off shortly after -- and there was to be one final chance for the visitors.

Sommer completely misjudged Brunt's deep cross and Jonny Evans was at the back post to meet it only for Rodriguez to hack off the line.

It was Jonny Evans who had argued Hategan's call against his brother was a ``worse decision'' than the missed Thierry Henry handball that cost the Republic of Ireland eight years ago.

And now that it too has proved decisive, the Northern Irish know how their neighbours felt.

Related news

World Cup finals draw pots now known after completion of qualifying

World Cup finals draw pots now known after completion of qualifying

The seedings for the 2018 World Cup finals draw can now be confirmed after Peru booked the 32nd and last place at next summer's tournament in Russia.

Gian Piero Ventura sacked by Italy following World Cup failure

Gian Piero Ventura sacked by Italy following World Cup failure

Gian Piero Ventura has been sacked as coach of Italy after failing to guide them to next summer's World Cup, the Italian Football Federation has announced.

Denmark reach World Cup, doom Ireland after Eriksen's hat trick

Denmark reach World Cup, doom Ireland after Eriksen's hat trick

Christian Eriksen's hat trick helped Denmark qualify for the 2018 World Cup with a 5-1 win over Republic of Ireland, whose hopes ended in the UEFA playoffs once more.

Italy eliminated as resilient Sweden earn draw

Italy eliminated as resilient Sweden earn draw

Italy have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, as Sweden secured their spot in Russia after the teams' 0-0 draw on Monday in Milan.

Croatia cruise into World Cup finals after second-leg draw vs. Greece

Croatia cruise into World Cup finals after second-leg draw vs. Greece

Croatia comfortably negotiated the second leg of their play-off tie against Greece with a goalless draw sealing their place at next summer's World Cup.

Ireland hold Denmark to first leg stalemate

Ireland hold Denmark to first leg stalemate

Darren Randolph was the Republic of Ireland's hero as they returned from Denmark with a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw after surviving a stern test of their World Cup credentials.

Johansson strikes as Sweden take upper hand against Italy

Johansson strikes as Sweden take upper hand against Italy

Italy must beat Sweden at San Siro on Monday to have any hope of qualifying for the World Cup in Russia after Jakob Johansson condemned the Azzurri to a 1-0 first-leg defeat in Stockholm.

Croatia open three-goal lead over Greece after playoff first leg

Croatia open three-goal lead over Greece after playoff first leg

Croatia put one foot toward a place in Russia next year with a 4-1 win over Greece in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff on Thursday.

RELATED NEWS

World Cup finals draw pots now known after completion of qualifying
World Cup 2018 news

World Cup finals draw pots now known after completion of qualifying

The seedings for the 2018 World Cup finals draw can now be confirmed after Peru booked the 32nd and last place at next summer's tournament in Russia.

Gian Piero Ventura sacked by Italy following World Cup failure
Italy news

Gian Piero Ventura sacked by Italy following World Cup failure

Gian Piero Ventura has been sacked as coach of Italy after failing to guide them to next summer's World Cup, the Italian Football Federation has announced.

Denmark reach World Cup, doom Ireland after Eriksen's hat trick
Republic of Ireland 1 - 5 Denmark

Denmark reach World Cup, doom Ireland after Eriksen's hat trick

Christian Eriksen's hat trick helped Denmark qualify for the 2018 World Cup with a 5-1 win over Republic of Ireland, whose hopes ended in the UEFA playoffs once more.

Italy eliminated as resilient Sweden earn draw
Italy 0 - 0 Sweden

Italy eliminated as resilient Sweden earn draw

Italy have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, as Sweden secured their spot in Russia after the teams' 0-0 draw on Monday in Milan.

Croatia cruise into World Cup finals after second-leg draw vs. Greece
Greece 0 - 0 Croatia

Croatia cruise into World Cup finals after second-leg draw vs. Greece

Croatia comfortably negotiated the second leg of their play-off tie against Greece with a goalless draw sealing their place at next summer's World Cup.

Ireland hold Denmark to first leg stalemate
Denmark 0 - 0 Republic of Ireland

Ireland hold Denmark to first leg stalemate

Darren Randolph was the Republic of Ireland's hero as they returned from Denmark with a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw after surviving a stern test of their World Cup credentials.

Johansson strikes as Sweden take upper hand against Italy
Sweden 1 - 0 Italy

Johansson strikes as Sweden take upper hand against Italy

Italy must beat Sweden at San Siro on Monday to have any hope of qualifying for the World Cup in Russia after Jakob Johansson condemned the Azzurri to a 1-0 first-leg defeat in Stockholm.

Croatia open three-goal lead over Greece after playoff first leg
Croatia 4 - 1 Greece

Croatia open three-goal lead over Greece after playoff first leg

Croatia put one foot toward a place in Russia next year with a 4-1 win over Greece in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff on Thursday.