Switzerland’s controversial 1-0 first-leg win over Northern Ireland in their World Cup play-off proved decisive, as Vladimir Petkovic’s side played out an entertaining 0-0 draw in Sunday’s return fixture in Basle to secure passage to next year’s finals.
Petkovic’s men were wasteful on the day, but ultimately that did not matter, with the Swiss holding firm at the back and ensuring their lead from Belfast – claimed thanks to Ricardo Rodriguez’s contentious penalty – was enough to send Switzerland to Russia.
The first half was frantic and exhilarating in extremely sodden conditions, but Northern Ireland could count themselves more than a little lucky to remain only a goal down on aggregate at the break, with Haris Seferovic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Steven Zuber all seeing fine chances spurned in a dominant display.
Michael O’Neill’s men gained momentum as the second period progressed and subjected Switzerland to spells of pressure in the final 30 minutes.
But, the home side dug deep and held on to the draw they needed, denying a Northern Ireland side who are likely to once again highlight the impact of Rodriguez’s controversial penalty in Belfast.