Nothern Ireland vs Switzerland
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Northern Ireland will look to make home advantage count when they host Switzerland in the first leg of their World Cup play-off on Thursday.
Having finished second in their qualifying group behind world champions Germany, Northern Ireland know only Switzerland stand in their way of a first World Cup appearance since 1986.
Switzerland, whose world ranking of 11th is the highest of all eight teams in the European play-offs, won nine of their 10 Group B matches – losing their final crucial encounter to Portugal 2-0.
Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill admits that while he is aware of the threat Switzerland possess, he wants his players to focus on their own strengths as they target a spot in Russia next summer.
“It’s important to reach the World Cup. We saw what it did to the country during the Euros and it brought everyone together,” O’Neill said.
“The reality is these players have gone through a lot. Good and bad. Whatever happens we won’t have any regrets. The prize is massive and we know how big a deal it is for everyone in Northern Ireland.
“Switzerland won nine games and didn’t get automatic qualification. They have a lot of good players and we have done work on their attacking threats.
“They have lots of tournament experience. We respect them but we will be doing everything in our power.”
Sunderland midfielder Paddy McNair was named in the squad despite only returning from an 11-month injury lay-off two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Nottingham Forest forward Jamie Ward, who missed the final five games of the group stages with a calf injury, and Aaron Hughes (also calf problem) are back in contention.
Steven Davis will make his 100th appearance for Northern Ireland should he feature at Windsor Park on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Swiss will be without defender Johan Djourou (knee) and midfielder Valon Behrami is also expected to miss out with a thigh problem.
This will be the fifth meeting between these two countries, with Northern Ireland winning twice (D1 L1).
In fact, both of those wins came at home, most recently in April 1998 thanks to a 10th minute Darren Patterson strike.
The Green and White Army will be entering the play-offs for the first time, qualifying automatically for World Cup 1958, 1982 and 1986. Also winning the group in Euro 2016 qualifying.
Northern Ireland kept seven clean sheets in World Cup 2018 qualifying; only England (8) managed more.