As everyone waited with bated breath on the World Cup Play Off draw, Fernando Hierro joined the host on stage for the usual pre-draw faffing. It’s not what we’ve come to expect from the footballing confederations, a brief chat then it was down to business.
The draw was conducted from three pots. Pot one had the names of the seeded teams and pot three had the unseeded teams. One team was draw from either pot and placed into pot two, the first team drawn from pot two would play their home fixture first – simple, no?
Northern Ireland v Switzerland
Northern Ireland were the first team drawn in the process, allowing them home advantage in the first leg on Thursday 9th November. The second leg is expected to take place at Basel’s St. Jakob Park on Sunday 12th November, the home of FC Basel with a maximum capacity of 37,500 for international fixtures.
The Swiss finished their qualifying campaign with only one defeat, albeit a decision one. They lost out on top spot by way of a 2-0 away defeat to group winners Portugal in the final fixture. It was a fantastic qualifying campaign in which Switzerland scored 23 goals and conceded only 7 in the 10 games played.
Of the 23 goals scored, Switzerland had 13 different goalscorers.Their top goalscorer was Benfica’s Haris Seferovic on 4 goals, Juventus wingback Stephan Lichtsteiner had 3 goals and Arsenal’s midfielder Granit Xhaka was one of three players to claim 2 goals.
Northern Ireland will not take this game lightly, in the knowledge that Switzerland kicked off their qualifying group with a 2-0 victory over 2016 European Championship winners Portugal.
Denmark v Republic of Ireland
Ireland’s dramatic finale in Wales was enough to secure them a chance at World Cup football since the infamous 2002 Finals in South Korea/Japan. The first leg will be played in Copenhagen’s Parken Stadion on Saturday 11th November with the second leg taking place back at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday 14th November.
Denmark were placed in a tight group where a case could have been made for any four of themselves, Poland, Montenegro or Romania winning the group. In the end Denmark finished second behind a strong Polish side led by the 16 goals of Robert Lewandowski.
Denmark were strong defensively, only conceding 8 goals in 10 games played whiles they scored 20. They were led by the 8 goals of Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen with a further 4 from Werder Bremen’s Thomas Delaney.
While Denmark may have been a favourable draw in comparison to Italy, Martin O’Neill will be wary of the threat they pose after their 4-0 demolition of Poland back in September.
What do we think of the draw?
Matt McKay: “Italy and Croatia were always going to be the teams to avoid. Both countries have drawn a bit of luck with their opposition here but it’s not going to be easy for either of us. Ireland went through their whole campaign unbeaten away from home so they’ll probably fancy their chances of getting something from the first leg. Northern Ireland fear no one and I expect we’ll see that the Norway result was just a bit of blip. Being at home first gives us a good chance to make a statement of intent and put the pressure on Switzerland for the second leg.”
Henry Muldrew: “Very pleased with the draw and if pushed is exactly the team and way I wanted as I would have wished with us home first. We are a team that frustrates so our main job throughout is to keep a clean sheet at Windsor and have very confidence that we can score there. The second leg puts big pressure on them not to concede free kicks if you like. Whilst they have done well in their group it was not a difficult one and they have nothing that Michael O’Neill cannot cater for.
Denmark have more form at the moment and I would worry a lot about Eriksen as a lot of his damage is subtle. Jamie Ward’s return at the weekend is very significant as we have missed his speed around the opposing penalty area and that could be vital at this level. The bottom line is I expect Switzerland to look forward to the tie less than ourselves as we are horrible to play against.”
Rodney McCain: “I wanted Denmark in the draw, as I believe that aside from Christian Eriksen & Kasper Schmeichel, the rest of their squad is nothing special at International level; I fully expect the Republic of Ireland to give them two very competitive games, and I’d make the Republic favourites to win that tie. For us, Switzerland is ‘the next best thing’, and are certainly beatable over two legs, but the fact that they lost only a single game in their Group which contained Portugal and Hungary in it, scoring 23 goals and conceding only 7 in 10 qualifying games, would indicate that they are a team to be very much respected. I would also have preferred to play the away leg in Basle first, but having the home game in Belfast first puts the onus on us to secure a win, and could leave us vulnerable to a pacy counter-attacking team as we seek to ‘take the game’ to the Swiss. The Swiss have some excellent technical players such as Lichtsteiner, Rodriguez & Shaqiri and dangerous strikers in Seferovic (Benfica) and Embolo (Schalke), so we are certainly underdogs (as we would have been no matter who we drew), but we have enough about us (assuming everyone is fit to play, which we will NEED them to be….) to win the tie. It will be tough, though. I’m delighted to have avoided Croatia, who I think are the most dangerous team in the draw, and a team I would expect to beat Greece with ease.”
Stephen Gilliland: “Both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland can be pleased to have avoided what seems to be the two toughest teams in the Play Offs in Italy and Croatia.
Northern Ireland have drawn, in Switzerland a side that despite being the highest ranked team of those in the draw at with in the world, a side that doesn’t have a stand out world class player and will hope to get a positive result in the first leg at Windsor Park to give themselves a chance of progressing.
For the Republic they have drawn what is seemingly the worst side of those seeded, and stand a real chance of that can keep the Danes’ creative lynchpin Christian Eriksen quiet and with the second leg at home, will know that if they can get a score draw in Denmark they could quickly become favourites to win the tie.”